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A new face for ‘a change from within’ | Edward Zammit Lewis

Lawyer and Labour candidate Edward Zammit Lewis may be perceived as a typically ‘PN’ figure, but he believes that politics should do away with such labelling and partisan squabbles to embrace ‘concrete issues’

Jacob Borg
21 January 2013, 12:00am
Edward Zammit Lewis
Edward Zammit Lewis


A very amiable personality who believes in hard work, Labour candidate Edward Zammit-Lewis clearly recognises that politics is about people and not just vague ideas and notions. This is not to say that he is not brimming with ideas, with institutional reform in particularly being close to his heart.

Often pigeonholed as appearing to be a typical 'PN' candidate, Zammit-Lewis firmly believes that these political mentalities of old have no place in New Labour.

"This is a case of outdated mentalities based on superficial judgements that we need to move away from. Politics should be about concrete issues, positions have been taken. The Labour Party has been working on concrete policies long before the elections were even announced. Politics is all about content."

Talking about concrete policies is all well and good, but one cannot deny that the Labour Party has become very image-conscious.

"Content is always important, but image plays a part in deciding the outcome of elections too. I won't say that aesthetics are irrelevant, if anything it shows good preparation and organisation on the part of the PL."

Such preparation is characteristic of Zammit-Lewis's own personal approach to politics. Despite being viewed as a 'new face', he has been active in the Labour Party for many years.

"I am a new face in the sense that I have never been in parliament before. But I have actively worked behind the scenes both within the party and at local council level. What makes me new is that I want to be a part of Joseph Muscat's reformist politics. I believe in Joseph's project and I have the utmost respect for him. We are old childhood friends, and we both believe in the need to move away from tribal politics."

Asked whether any ideological differences still exist between the two parties once one scratches away the superficiality, Zammit-Lewis speaks of the notion of symbiosis.

"Workers will always remain one of the Labour Party's strongest support bases. But we cannot view workers as being some sort of group who are cut off from the rest of society. The PL is widening its political appeal, and the traditional definition of 'workers' is much broader than it once was. Doctors, lawyers, journalists are all workers trying to earn a living. Ultimately, businesspersons and workers need to work together in symbiosis."

"Muscat's movement is wider than the party's usual base, the idea is that people who do not agree with everything that the PL does can still identify with the party."

Bordering on the spiritual at times, Zammit-Lewis talks of "dualism and change from within".

"Change comes from within - it is about a change in mentality, not just in ideology. This will both help us be more competitive economically and eliminate unnecessary fights and bickering."

Time to confront the elephant in the room. Energy policy.

"Enemalta is in a very precarious position. If Labour is in government, it will have to face this problem."

But isn't it risky rushing headlong into such an important matter?

"Acting quickly is of the essence. Everything will be done respecting European Union directives. The PL will try to make the process as fast as possible. We will respect EU rules. If there is scope to use an expedited process, then we will use it."

"We have to look at the PN's own track record. They had the opportunity to act on the matter 10 years ago. Instead we ended up with a new power-station run on heavy fuel oil."

"This shows the inconsistencies in PN's record of accomplishment, not only in this legislature but in the previous one as well. The PN can say what it wants, it has lost its credibility. Elections are not just about manifestos and the flurry of promises in the last nine weeks of the election. It is an assessment of the government's performance over the last five years."

But doesn't bypassing the tendering process decrease transparency?

"The current government uses the expression of interest process frequently. One example of this is in the construction of deep water quays. We have to think outside of the box. It is an ambitious project and there will be difficulties. The PL is not scared of the challenge."

Confronted on the tectonic shift in 'old Labour' industrial policies towards nationalisation, and the current rumblings about a public-private partnership in the energy sector Zammit-Lewis has this to say: "The world has changed, and the PL is part of this change. We cannot base ourselves on old mentalities. Public-private partnerships are a commercial reality. The government needs to get the money from somewhere. We are already in a precarious situation. In many instances, the private sector is more efficient than the government. We have a lot of capable people in the private sector, and this mentality over a public-private sector divide is archaic."

"The PL hasn't chosen the public-private partnership option to please a particular company. It has done so because it is necessary. The PL's proposal has been well received by various industry stakeholders."

Speaking of the wider paradigm shift taking place on Malta's political landscape, Zammit-Lewis feels that the momentum is definitely with the PL this campaign.

"The PL is being very proactive in setting the agenda this electoral campaign. This used to be a struggle, as in the past we were always on the back foot and reacting to the PN's policies."

"The wheels of change are in motion. The PN had long dragged its feet on the energy issue and avoided taking action. We have now brought the issue out in the open and allowed it to be debated. We are very proud of this and the proposal itself. Providing lower energy tariffs is our number one priority."

Proving that the PL has expanded away from its purely socialist roots, Zammit-Lewis continues, "we are not only looking at the social aspect of the tariff reductions. The commercial viability of many businesses is currently under assault and these reductions will help get them firmly back in the black".

Zammit-Lewis concedes that not all that the government has done over the past years is negative.

"I have the utmost respect for how the government handled the Libya issue, as it reflected well on Malta. We need to be more outward looking, not only as a party but as an country as a whole."

Zammit-Lewis goes on to cite the appointment of Commissioner Tonio Borg as being a shining example of the new bipartisan approach being adopted by Labour.

"The appointment of Tonio Borg as Commissioner was another positive development for Malta which saw cross party agreement. I know that it might sound like I'm jumping the gun, but Malta's presidency of the EU Council is another golden opportunity for both parties to work together and show that we can lead on a European level. Our small size does not have to be a limiting factor. By working together we can offer a window on our capabilities."

Institutional reform is another topic close to Zammit-Lewis's heart. Turning to the PL's promise to cut red tape by 25% and cut down on government waste, Zammit-Lewis is confident that the goal is easily achievable.

"I can offer up a practical example of government waste. The government is not even aware of how much property it currently owns. I see it as a massive waste that the government then goes on to rent land from the private sector.

"The new parliament is another prime example of waste. It can hardly be described as a priority for the country. A lot of waste simply emanates from the government getting its priorities wrong. Back in 2008, Gonzi promised that he would take the MEPA problem under his charge. These promised reforms never came through. ARMS limited is yet another prime example. In my private practice as a lawyer, I have represented many a client who has been stonewalled by the company. It sometimes takes the entity months on end to reply to a simple letter. This is unacceptable."

"The government has been overly lethargic in tackling these problems. We have not moved forward. The economy does not work with a lot of bureaucracy. It is even putting off foreign firms."

Asked how he can possibly quantify this figure of 25%, Zammit-Lewis is confident that it can be done with a little effort.

"There needs to be a shift in mentality. People working in government departments need to be proud of their work and up their performance. In my private practice I make it a point to get back to people as soon as possible."

One point that raises the ire of many people working in the private sector is the summer working hours of government departments. Pushed on whether Labour would seek to change this, Zammit-Lewis says that a department by department views needs to be taken.

"The summer working hours were introduced before certain luxuries such as air conditioning existed. Today many government entities actually have nicer offices than my own! I definitely think that the issue should be reviewed for certain departments. We have a lot of competition from other countries in niche markets during the summer period. This is why we as the PL are reformist, if certain practices are not working, then we should review them."

But with the PL making promises left, right and centre, isn't Joseph Muscat overextending himself?

Taking the plan to offer free child care as an example, Zammit-Lewis is adamant that the PL can deliver.

"We have one of the lowest female participation rates in Europe. It is true that at face value this promise by Muscat looks too good to be true. But in reality a lot of thought has been put into it, and the groundwork has already been laid. By increasing the female participation rate we will also be increasing tax revenues. This means that in the long term the proposal is financially viable."

According to Zammit-Lewis, some of Muscat's other plans have been misunderstood.

"We are not going to raise wages irresponsibly. Muscat never promised a living wage, he merely floated the proposal. The COLA is already in place, but this is not keeping up with inflation. Instead of raising this more, we need to address the causes of inflation."

Asked if the Labour motto of inclusiveness extends to irregular immigrants and legislating on gay adoption, Zammit-Lewis says:

"I believe that Malta has to be open to helping in cases of genuine human tragedies. That being said, Malta cannot tackle this problem alone. Joseph Muscat has long argued that the government should have been much tougher in negotiating burden sharing with the EU. The burden sharing needs to be automatic based on certain macroeconomic criteria and the size of the country.

"Muscat has been misinterpreted on gay adoption. He never said that he was going to introduce new legislation. Under the current system, a married couple has to wait three years until they can adopt a child, while a single person can apply for adoption immediately. Currently we have an adoption board in place, which assesses the merits of every single case. The fact that a single person may be in a gay relationship should not be a barrier to adoption. In my opinion legislation in this sphere is not a priority, but the adoption process should be sped up as at the end of the day we are talking about human beings."

The lack of a resignation culture in Malta is something that irks Zammit-Lewis.

"The PN is out of synch with how the population feels. People expect higher standards from their politicians. They expected resignations for the botched transport reforms. At the end of the day, politicians are administrating people money, and they should be responsible for this."

So naturally, this accountability should extend to the Prime Minister...

"Joseph Muscat knows that the energy project is a massive undertaking and he is ready to be held accountable for it. Our current accountability standards are too low. Ministers have not shown good judgement. The €500 increase is a case in point. I do agree that MPs should be remunerated for their work, but the way that things happen should be done in the open.

"GonziPN has devalued Parliament. A lot of important discussions are being brushed under the carpet and a lot of stuff of important discussion are not had MPs do not have the resources to control everything going on. We need to invest in people, not in buildings. I want to see a parliament where big contracts are brought under parliamentary scrutiny. The commercial sensitivity excuse is used too often such as with St Philip's hospital. Large contracts should be analysed in parliament.."

Pushed on whether the energy contract will be brought under scrutiny, Zammit-Lewis hedges his bets.

"I cannot make such promises. But I do not see why it should not be discussed. There is nothing wrong with that.

Zammit-Lewis's work as a lawyer brings him into daily contact with some of the failings of the justice system.

"The 'consumers' of the law courts are clearly not satisfied. Potentially guilty people have been let off on a technicality. The law courts suffer from a lack of resources and certain reforms have not been implemented. Legal assistance at the stage where a suspect is giving a statement is a must. Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming the government for the recent scandals involving magistrates and judges."

Rent reform is another topic close to Zammit-Lewis's heart.

"Joseph Muscat had appointed me as a legal consultant for rent reforms. I immersed myself completely, but obviously I couldn't get all my proposals taken on board. The reform by the PN went through with the help of the PL. This was an example of working in harmony and is a step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done as certain rent laws are unconstitutional."