MaltaToday survey | Owen Bonnici takes flak for magistrates’ appointments

Rate-The-Minister Survey Judging by the performance of its ministers in the latest Rate the Minister Survey, justice, home affairs and transport are the Labour government’s Achilles’ heel

james
James Debono
29 February 2016, 7:55am
Owen Bonnici has not only seen his approval rating dip by 15 points among all respondents but also seen an eight-point dip among Labour voters.
Owen Bonnici has not only seen his approval rating dip by 15 points among all respondents but also seen an eight-point dip among Labour voters.
Ministers' ratings • MaltaToday Survey February 2016
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The latest controversy on judicial appointments has weighed heavily on Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s approval ratings. Bonnici is registering a substantial dip in his ranking in the ministers’ league table from third most positively rated minister in October last year, to second least positively rated now. 

Bonnici, widely viewed as one of Labour’s more energetic ministers who could be considered leadership material in the future, emerges weakened by a decision endorsed by the entire Cabinet.

But although Bonnici has seen his approval ratings plummet, 30% of respondents judged his performance “so and so”. Among Labour voters he get an approval rating of 63%, which is higher than that of Joe Mizzi, Leo Brincat, Anton Refalo and Michael Farrugia, and the same as that of Carmelo Abela.

Carmelo Abela is another main casualty of the survey. Not only has his overall positive rating decreased by five points but his negative rating has increased by nine points.

On the other hand the survey confirms the government’s strength in tourism, education and the economy, with Edward Zammit Lewis registering a four-point increase over October, to reach a strong approval rating of 62%.

The survey was conducted among 450 respondents and conducted in the third week of February, when respondents were asked to rate each minister’s performance. 

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has been singled out for criticism for the nomination of Ingrid Zammit Young and Caroline Farrugia Frendo to become magistrates. Zammit Young has withdrawn her nomination because over the last three years she had served on the Employment Commission, which ruled her out constitutionally. But the government has pressed on with the nomination of Caroline Farrugia Frendo, the daughter of parliament’s Speaker, Anglu Farrugia. Farrugia Frendo will achieve the seven-year experience threshold needed for such an appointment only next month. The government now intends to change the way judges and magistrates are appointed.

Owen Bonnici has not only seen his approval rating dip by 15 points among all respondents but also seen an eight point dip among Labour voters. 

The only Labour Minister to register a lower positive rating than Bonnici is Transport Minister Joe Mizzi who has registered a further seven point dip from October and has now touched rock bottom with an approval rating of just 15 per cent. 

With the exception of Austin Gatt, whose approval rating fell to 10 per cent in 2011, Mizzi registers the lowest approval rating by any minister since MaltaToday started conducting its rate the minister survey in 2005. Austin Gatt was Joe Mizzi’s predecessor as transport minister in the previous administration.

Only 15% of respondents in MaltaToday’s latest survey judge the performance of Joe Mizzi at transport as positive, down from 22% in October and 25% in 2014. Mizzi had registered a strong approval rating of 52% in February 2014. 

The timing of the survey in February suggests that Mizzi’s problems are not only related to the higher traffic congestion in October, when schools re-opened, but also reflects concern on public transport.

Mizzi’s performance is now judged negatively by 44% (up from 34% in October) and ‘so-so’ by 31%. 

Mizzi was also the minister to have received the lowest ratings from PN and PL voters, respectively 2.7% (down from 9%) and 32% (down from 41%), underlining the cross-party agreement on the minister’s performance over the past year.

Other losers in the survey are Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela who was recently in the eye of the storm over the death of two inmates in custody. Foreign Minister George Vella also registers a substantial 10-point dip, which sees him back to the approval rate registered in 2014 before a health scare about him. 

Survey confirms ‘feel-good’ factor on economy 

On the other hand, tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis has not only seen a four-point increase in his positive rating but has confirmed himself as the Cabinet’s most popular minister, with an approval rate of 62%. Moreover Zammit Lewis is highly popular among switchers, 77% of whom judge his performance positively. 

Zammit Lewis is also the most positively rated minister among PL voters, 88% of whom judge his performance positively, and PN voters, 33% of whom do the same.

Zammit Lewis’s popularity indicates the general satisfaction with the tourism sector, which dates back to the previous administration when present PN deputy leader Mario de Marco, who served in the same role (coupled to the more contentious environment portfolio), was the previous government’s most positively rated minister. Moreover, four months after presenting his budget, Edward Scicluna registers a three-point increase in positive ratings from October. Scicluna has seen his approval rating increase from 34% in October 2014 to 45% now. 

Despite holding what is traditionally seen as the most unpopular portfolios, Scicluna is now the third most popular minister in the cabinet, surpassing Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi who loses three points from October. Konrad Mizzi, who back in 2014 was the government’s second most popular minister, seems to have lost some of his sparkle. 

He is now 14 points less popular than he was in February 2014 when his performance was judged positively by a staggering 57%, making him the second most popular minister after Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. 

The survey was held before revelations that Mizzi had set up a company in Panama and a trust fund in New Zealand.

Significantly, he also loses two points among Labour voters in a survey following the announcement of his candidature as party deputy leader. But together with Evarist Bartolo and Edward Scicluna, he is still the second most positively rated minister among Labour voters. However, the percentage of Labour voters who give him a negative rating has also risen by four points since October. Moreover, a tenth of Labour voters consider Konrad Mizzi’s performance as minister negatively.

Economy minister Chris Cardona has seen a small one point dip overall but is highly popular among switchers, 74% of whom give him a positive rating. 

In what could shed light on Labour’s changed ideological blueprint following the departure of Marie Louise Coleiro Preca from the social policy portfolio, Michael Farrugia is less positively rated than economy-related ministers. He is judged positively by only 39% (down one point from October) compared to the 68% who judged Coleiro Preca’s performance as positive in February 2014.

Negative balance for cabinet 

While five ministers improved their positive ratings since October, eight ministers registered losses ranging from a very minimal 0.2 points by Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli to the 15-point loss by the Justice Minister. Dalli is the only minister to register a minimal one-point increase among PN voters. All other ministers have registered losses among PN voters.

Education and Employment Minister Evarist Bartolo remains the second most popular minister, with an approval of 51% (a one point rise over October). 

Bartolo emerges as the second most positively rated minister among PN voters, 22% of whom judge his performance positively.

Environment minister Leo Brincat, who gained five points over last October registers significant gains. This could reflect greater exposure for Brincat following the creation of an Environment and Resources Authority and declarations by the government that it will not be proposing more projects on ODZ land after last year’s Zonqor debacle. 

But despite these gains Brincat remains one of the least popular government ministers and only 35% of voters approve his performance. Moreover Brincat is given a positive rating by only 56% of Labour voters, 41% of switchers and 11% of PN voters. Gozo Minister Anton Refalo also registers a small one-point increase over October. 

Foreign Minister George Vella’s losses must be seen in the context of a wave of sympathy following a heart attack which coincided with the October 2015 survey when he saw his approval rating rise by nine points. In this survey he loses nine points and is back at the same approval rating he enjoyed in 2014. Deputy PM Louis Grech, who heads a ministry responsible for European affairs and the implementation of Labour’s manifesto, has also seen a small one point dip in approval. While only 12% give Grech a negative rating, 31% could not express a judgement on his performance. In fact voters were most undecided about Grech’s performance.

Minister ratings: the biggest losers

Owen Bonnici has not only seen his approval rating dip by 15 points among all respondents but also seen an eight-point dip among Labour voters. 

The only Labour Minister to register a lower positive rating than Bonnici is Transport Minister Joe Mizzi who has registered a further seven-point dip from October and has now touched rock bottom with an approval rating of just 15 per cent. 

With the exception of Austin Gatt, whose approval rating fell to 10 per cent in 2011, Mizzi registers the lowest approval rating by any minister since MaltaToday started conducting its rate the minister survey in 2005. Austin Gatt was Joe Mizzi’s predecessor as transport minister in the previous administration.

Foreign Minister George Vella also registers a substantial 10-point dip, which sees him back to the approval rate registered in 2014 before a health scare about him.

Methodology 

The survey was held between Monday, 15 February and Thursday, 18 February. 648 respondents were contacted and the survey stopped after 450- quota sample was reached. Margin of error +/-4.6 percentage points. 

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...