The end of a turbulent chapter

Renouncing Muscat after an electoral victory that could not have happened without those votes is the biggest challenge Abela will face. But it’s the only way to open effectively the new chapter Malta sorely needs

Left to right: Finance Minister Clyde Caruana and Prime Minister Robert Abela
Left to right: Finance Minister Clyde Caruana and Prime Minister Robert Abela

Last Monday’s was Minister Clyde Caruana’s first budget speech – but it signalled the end of a turbulent chapter in Malta’s political history.

I am sure that none of the MPs who were present for the opening of Parliament after the general election in 2017 imagined that this was how that Parliament would eventually end – with a record number of MPs who were not elected or who never even contested an election, including the Minister of Finance who read the budget speech; and a Prime Minister who had just been elected an MP and was not even a member of the Cabinet originally picked by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

After the budget speech, we had the usual political tit-for-tat that will hardly lead to people switching their voting intentions.

The PN opted to attack the budget on the issue of the national debt, saying that today Malta has a record deficit. Labour has reacted by saying that Malta had the biggest deficit in the Gonzi years. Who is correct? If one looks at the deficit in absolute number of euros, then the PN is correct, but economists look at the deficit as a percentage of GDP, which explains Labour’s argument. Does the PN really think that people are going to fall for it and they are going to win new votes by using their argument? That, perhaps, explains why the PN is in the position it finds itself in these days.

The budget speech also failed to inform the people of Malta what steps have to be taken to reverse the greylisting decision taken by FATF earlier this year. Perhaps the needed measures will not sound so sweet to many ears, and now is not the time to tell the people the bitter medicine that they will have to swallow in the coming months!

The emphasis on the environment was nothing but a reaction to opinion polls that have consistently shown that the environment is considered to be a serious concern by many. Some have commented on the lack of imagination in the thrust of this year’s budget speech that even failed to refer significantly to the grandiose projects with which the current administration has been luring the people, such as the metro project. Perhaps, these commentators have not realised that this was a budget speech that looked backwards more than forwards.

Next year, Malta will have a different administration, even if Labour wins the coming election. Robert Abela’s triumph – as predicted by the opinion polls – will not owe anything to Joseph Muscat. It will not be a continuation of the Muscat’s economic ‘miracle’, mired – as it was – with the heaviest dose of corruption that Malta has ever witnessed. It will be the beginning of a new chapter.

To the voters who are only interested in counting the euro on the plus side and comparing them with the euro on the minus side, there were no shocks. There was some tweaking in taxation and social services to ease the problems of the more deprived sectors of the population that had fallen behind. The attention given to pensioners’ income is a case in point. Whether one describes this as socialism or Christianity is irrelevant. Malta’s economic leaps forward had undoubtedly left some at the edge of penury and such measures cannot but be applauded.

Yet Robert Abela has to walk a tight rope as his administration cannot either look backwards with pride or look forward with enthusiasm. That, in short, is the conundrum in which Robert Abela finds himself. He must cut off his connection with the past and close this chapter of Malta’s history; hoping that the next chapter will be entirely of his own making – with no obligation to anybody except to the voters that vote Labour – apart from the obligation that any government has to serve all the people of Malta.

Obviously, if the PN wins the election, opening a new chapter will be the easiest thing because oppositions that win elections always open a new chapter – whether successfully or not so successfully would be judged eventually much later.

The party in government being returned to power and then opening a new chapter to distance itself from its own past is not so easy or obvious. One can never ignore the substantial amount of Labour voters who are still infatuated with Joseph Muscat. Robert Abela needs their votes and he will get them.

Renouncing Joseph Muscat after an electoral victory that could not have happened without those votes is the biggest challenge that Robert Abela will face.

But that is the only way how to open effectively the new chapter that Malta sorely needs.

Enemalta shake-up

Enemalta has a new CEO and a new chairman. Jonathan Cardona was appointed CEO last Monday, replacing Jason Vella. Meanwhile, Jonathan Scerri will replace Kevin Chircop as chairman.

Personally, I think there must be a serious reason for the two most important people in an organisation to be changed at the same time.

When rumours of the switch were revealed a few weeks ago, the responsible minister, Miriam Dalli, insisted it had nothing to do with the many issues at Enemalta. However there is no doubt that there are concerns about recent widespread power cuts and that the police are investigating the Montenegro wind farm scandal.

In 2020, Enemalta reportedly made losses in the region of €30 million, and a credit-rating report gave a negative outlook for the company.

The price of electric energy has been shooting up in Europe where surging wholesale gas prices are encouraging more utilities to switch back to carbon-heavy coal to generate electricity – just as the EU tries to induce nations to avoid the polluting fuel.

This means that the rate at which Enemalta buys electricity from the European grid via the interconnector has increased substantially. In other times, we were told that Enemalta had opted for a second cable to be connected with the European grid. What has happened to this idea?

In short, despite all Konrad Mizzi’s and Joseph Muscat’s hype, Enemalta is not far off -financially – from where it was when Labour won the 2013 election.

Eventually something has to give. Wait for an increase in electricity rates after the election, irrespective of who will be in government.