Incompetence is Labour’s nemesis

When finance ministry read in the papers about what his ministry had approved without his knowledge, did he not ask his permanent secretary for an explanation?

Edward Scicluna (left) and Konrad Mizzi (centre)
Edward Scicluna (left) and Konrad Mizzi (centre)

The fact that Robert Abela won the Labour leadership race against expectations – with the support of the party’s grass roots – will not spare him if he cannot quickly reverse the impression of incompetence and ineptitude that many think is becoming the hallmark of his administration. Whether this is just a perception or not is irrelevant.

Fair or not, it will become the driving narrative of Abela’s premiership.

The astonishing resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent open tug-of war between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism belies a lack of unwavering leadership on the Prime Minister’s part.

The way the immigration problem is being handled also belies a government that is confused and does not seem to know what to do – more so after the money the country had to fork out to use of pleasure boats to keep migrants from entering Malta. This was one big fiasco that can only be attributed to the Prime Minister’s ineptitude.

The Prime Minister’s decision to keep Edward Scicluna as Minister of Finance despite the recent revelations on what was going on in the Ministry of Finance when Joseph Muscat was Prime Minister, also gives the impression that Robert Abela is not managing to shake off the spectre of the Muscat administration and somehow has a finger in that pie – a finger that is well and truly burning.

This is what the man in the street perceives and it is this perception that will determine the Prime Minister’s popularity; and – whether we like it or not – the fortunes of the party in government depend solely on the Prime Minister’s popularity.

Given all of this, it takes a particular skill on the PN’s part to remain behind in the polls, but the perception of incompetence contains all the elements that can transform a government’s political fortunes overnight.

In the last election, many voters closed an eye to corruption because they felt they had never had it so good. But the perception of incompetence, plus an economy that has seen a steep downward trend, are the right ingredients for the sort of electoral upheaval that would put labour in the opposition benches.

It could well be true that Robert Abela is not at fault for the economic situation that is mostly the result of the COVID-19 pandemic; but since the economy is going to the dogs under his watch, the perceived cause and effect cannot be shaken off easily.

If the PN can manage to portray itself a credible alternative government – despite the inner differences that have destroyed its public image – Labour could well be in trouble by the next election.

In the situation that the PN currently finds itself, this is practically impossible. That is why the effect of the short-sighted rebellion against Adrian Delia – stoked by many who should have known better – will probably lead to the PN losing its chance to win the next election.

Minister vs. Ministry

The revelations from the witnesses called to give evidence in the public inquiry on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia keep surprising us all.

First we had the minister of finance saying that things were being decided behind his back.

Now we have two chairmen of Projects Malta – William Wait and Adrian Said – confirming that all meetings of the unit were held at the finance ministry, and they were always attended by the permanent secretary of the finance ministry.

Projects Malta was the government agency responsible for major projects. That Projects Malta was not involved in the Electrogas deal is of no surprise. That contract was – as it should have been – the responsibility of the then-Enemalta Corporation and it actually predated the setting-up of Projects Malta.

The way in which the Vitals hospital concession was given shows that Projects Malta never decided anything. The ‘Request for Information’ document on the privatisation of the management of three hospitals was farmed out to a private legal consultancy and the final decision was taken without any due diligence being carried out on the company that was ‘chosen’ to do the job.

There was a rush, it seemed... and the finance ministry approved all the direct orders and decisions taken.

The issue has now become a serious one concerning the relations between the finance minister and the permanent secretary of his ministry.

If all evidence is to be believed, one concludes that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance took very important decisions involving millions of euro in public money without informing his minister.

Is this what really happened? Was there such a complete breakdown in communications between the minister and his permanent secretary to the extent that projects were being approved behind the minister’s back?

And when the finance ministry read in the papers about what his ministry had approved without his knowledge, did he not ask his permanent secretary for an explanation?

Was therefore, Minister Scicluna fit for purpose?

The mind boggles.

The Trumpian Party

The Republican convention has turned out to be an event centred on Donald Trump’s egocentric personality.

Speakers at the convention included the likes of Donald Trump, Jr., his girlfriend, and Eric Trump, among others. They are people who lack any visible merit but were paraded as persons who are somehow worthy of attention, admiration, and respect. And Donald Trump himself addressed the Convention every day...

President Trump even appeared on screen to sign a surprise pardon for Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber who turned his life around with help from the FBI agent who had arrested him.

No President had ever before issued a pardon during a political convention.

It is obvious that the Republican Party – one of the two major political parties in the US – has abandoned its powers of critical thought. It seems that many millions of Americans have chosen to follow that party as it leaps off the cliff, into the abyss.

Are Americans succumbing to the cult of personality that Donald Trump has spun around himself? Has the Republican Party abandoned its principles and metamorphosed into the Trumpian Party?

By sticking to Trump at all costs, the Republicans have undermined the so-called checks and balances in the US Constitution.