PN no longer has little emperors, says Gatt aide on election bid
‘No more emperors on PN’s candidates’ list’, says Manuel Delia after Franco Debono alleges minister’s clan extends influence on party.
14 July 2012, 12:00am
Having survived his hardest six months in parliament - filibustering on votes, attempting to placate Franco Debono, weathering confidence votes - Gonzi can now map out a roadmap to the next elections over the summer recess.
In doing so, he is priming 10 new names on the electoral ticket: Gejtu Vella, Manuel Delia, Claudio Grech, Therese Comodini Cachia, Ian Spiteri, Ryan Callus, Mark Anthony Sammut, Mario Rizzo Naudi, Albert Fenech, and Antoine Borg.
Two of them are not so new. Gejtu Vella and Delia may be newcomers to the ballot, but not to the public. Vella boasts of a sterling career as secretary-general of the Union Haddiema Maqghudin (UHM), while Delia is one of the architects of public transport reform.
Manuel Delia, who joined the PN's ranks at a young age, has spent 12 years at the flank of transport minister Austin Gatt. Delia, who will be running on the fifth district, also led the student protests of 1997 against the Labour government's stipend reform. "What I know in this business I learnt from him," Delia says of Gatt.
During the last 12 years, Delia has worked in justice, IT, transport, energy, water, film, public broadcasting, foreign direct investment, urban regeneration and various other ministerial endeavours - always at the side of Gatt, the brusque but accomplished government minister who recently weathered a revolutionary if stuttering public transport reform, and a controversial decision to fire the Delimara power station on heavy fuel oil.
"I have been in the kitchen and felt the heat. I believe this has been a very good education for a career in public service. I could have hardly asked for better," he adds.
Asked whether his proximity to Gatt will be an asset or a liability for him, Delia insists it will only be up to his constituents to decide.
Marsaxlokk is one of the localities that fall under his district, with many of its residents complaining about the Delimara power station and the use of heavy fuel oil to fire the plant. But according to Delia, this might not be an issue for him: "The issue, such as it is, was never brought up with me in any of my visits to Marsaxlokk families."
Delia is not the only 'Gatt man' to be running on the PN ticket. Gatt's former head of secretariat and chairman of the Malta IT agency, Claudio Grech, is now entering the electoral race body and soul.
PN backbencher Franco Debono, who has now been banned from contesting the general elections, has described this development as Gatt's attempt at "expanding his empire".
Delia, author of the public transport reform that Debono vehemently criticised to the extent of endangering Austin Gatt's ministerial permanence, replies knowingly to Debono: "There are no emperors in the PN. There are some that may have been tempted to consider their constituency as their territory - or empire - in which no one else would be allowed to serve, but since Thursday they are no longer on the PN's list of candidates."
Grech was an integral part of both the government and party machinery. In Gatt's ministry he led the negotiations with Dubai-owned Tecom for their acquisition of the Ricasoli land for the Smart City deal. He drifted out of public service and was appointed chief executive of Smart City Malta, and concurrently then politically appointed to serve as chairman of MITA. Politically he was never far from the PN, and he assisted the anti-divorce campaign in 2011 alongside such party strategists like Lawrence Zammit. After resigning as MITA chairman, he was reappointed to Gatt's side as his advisor on IT policy.
On the other hand, if the PN wants to attract working class voters, then Gejtu Vella is definitely the man to approve.
Following his retirement from the trade union, Vella denied immediate rumours that he would contest the elections on a PN ticket. However, the 52-year-old trade unionist has always insisted that he still had much to offer.
"During my career in trade-unionism I came across workers and families from all walks of life. This experience can help me help others face the difficulties which I believe only the PN can answer," Vella told MaltaToday this week.
Despite repeated denials from the union, the UHM has long been perceived as favouring the PN. While Vella's candidature on the fifth district has once again sparked this perception, he argues otherwise.
"Perceptions are perceptions and reality is reality. I no longer form part of the UHM and I feel that I can give my contribution in different sectors, including in the political arena," Vella said.
He added that he had always worked hard to defend the best interests of the workers, pensioners and families. So why choose the PN?
Vella argues that even though in the past there might have been occasions were the PN failed to take into consideration the aspirations of the people, it still took the best decisions in the moments of truth.
"The PN was the party that fought for Malta's accession to the EU, the VAT tax system, privatisation and other measures that strengthened the country economically and expanded social services."
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