Call of duty: build new PN | Ian Castaldi Paris

Contesting for the role of PN secretary general in June, Lija mayor Ian Castaldi Paris speaks frankly about the outgoing administration’s shortcomings, and insists that for the Nationalist Party to survive, it must give way to new, ‘fresh’ faces…

Ian Castaldi Paris: 'If anyone from the outgoing administration stays, it would be the PN’s downfall' Photo: Ray Attard
Ian Castaldi Paris: 'If anyone from the outgoing administration stays, it would be the PN’s downfall' Photo: Ray Attard

Despite being sidelined by the PN administration for years, the resolute public notary and Lija mayor Ian Castaldi Paris is ready to roll his sleeves up and play a central role in rebuilding the Nationalist Party.

The young mayor will be contesting the PN secretary-general post which will be elected in June and he is frank about the reasons why he will throw his hat in the ring.

"The PN secretary-general must not take up the job to improve his quality of life or to acquire power, but I am feeling this call of duty after the electoral drubbing because I truly want to see the party return to government."

Castaldi Paris comes across as a determined and candid person and besides panning out his plans for the party, he offers an insightful view of what really happened to his party over the past few years.

Having joined the party ranks some eight years ago, the Lija mayor was seen by many as a rising star within the PN, however Castaldi Paris explains that the people running the party were not so enthusiastic about his ascent to the PN's higher echelons.

Inevitably, my first question is why did things go wrong in such a spectacular fashion for the party which had been in government for the best part of the last 25 years?

"The PN won the 2008 election by a whisker, and the people believed or hoped that the party would change after promising that it would be closer to the people. The people gave us a chance, but I must say that during the last legislature, the PN became very arrogant."

He adds that the PN "did its utmost to axe valid and decent people out of its structures - whoever was ready to roll his sleeves up was axed. Genuine complaints were not dealt with properly and for some reason, no action was ever taken. The PN headquarters became an unwelcoming place that people became to feel excluded from. Whoever showed enthusiasm - and I consider myself to be among them - was given frosty stares which discourage you from contributing."

Castaldi Paris says the apathy and arrogance that captured the party, which was renowned for being slick and efficient (especially during electoral campaigns), saddens him and calls for a fresh start for the party.

"Seeing all these things unfold in front of my own eyes, I was not surprised that the people had had enough of the PN," he says, adding that parts of the electorate which hoped the PN would change, ended up voting for Labour or not voting at all, not because they really wanted to do so, but because they wanted to see a new PN."

He notes that such persons were deeply hurt and aggravated at having to vote for what was once the sworn enemy, and his words clearly show that his disappointment is equal to that of many Nationalists who turned their backs on their beloved party. 

While insisting that he always remained loyal to the party, Castaldi Paris bitterly says: "The only way could give way to a new PN was by suffering such a defeat. If the result was different, many people within the party would have thought that they were competent and capable and would have hanged on to their posts."

Describing the party machinery as a "phantom," the 34-year-old public notary adds that things also went wrong in the campaign itself, since the party decided to back some candidates over some others, leading to discontent among some candidates.

"The party was controlled by what looked like a phantom, and you would not know who was responsible for what. If you feel that you could step up your efforts and give more to the party, you would not know who to approach," he insists.

However he notes that during the last three weeks of the campaign, the PN pulled itself together and had a functioning customer care service.

"During the final stretch of the campaign, I saw the party working in the way which I wished it did, but it was too late. People had had enough."

But who is to blame? "Arrogance flourished in there. I believe that the people running the PN were simply not aware that Election Day had arrived or else they believed that the election could have been won by scaring people over jobs and unemployment."

Yet such moves are no longer effective, Castaldi Paris says, pointing out that "you can have the best policies, the best prime minister and safe and secure finances, but people need a sense of belonging, people need one-to-one contact and attention. The PN lost votes because some people did not feel wanted".

"A lot of PN voters felt they could and wanted to contribute more, but the party never assigned them any responsibilities. You had a situation where a small pool of people was being assigned the same posts and on the other hand, the then leader of the Opposition was saying that Malta belonged to all and gave people a sense of belonging."

"I feel sorry for the genuine PN supporters because they have been hurt. But I do not feel sorry for the hawks hovering around the party who had no love for the party. They were not suitable for the jobs they were offered and they were only doing it for their own personal gain."

Castaldi Paris points out that the electoral result was no fluke and the party had been on a downward spiral for years. He then explains his personal experiences within the PN and why he decided to step down as president of the Nationalist Party's College of Councillors in 2011.

"Two years ago I resigned the post, however a year prior to that, secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier asked me to give it another go, but I could only be as good as my master, and I decided to go because I could see the writing on the wall.

"I could not work within the party. I was consistently put out of track. When Edwin Vassallo became director of the college, I could not stay because we had two different agendas. I was not being invited for meetings or press conferences and Paul Borg Olivier did not understand that the new structure would not work. He would not show up for meetings, and press conferences would be called off at short notice. I had had enough. I realised that it was not my place to work under this administration."

He adds that the PN administration should have led by example and shown consistency, but this was never the case. Castaldi Paris recounts that he was once asked not to appear on a television programme for no ostensible reason, but nonetheless, he obeyed the orders.

Yet despite being told that it was the party's policy, other PN spokespersons did not abide by the orders and participated in the very same show.

"I could not understand how the system worked. It was either down to who your friends are or a case of people being axed."

Pointing out the difference between himself and other PN rebels such as Franco Debono, Castaldi Paris says that his main concern was the day-to-day running of the party.

"I could not understand why people who were feeling estranged were never approached and asked what was wrong. When I resigned as president of the local councillors college, then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi had sent a message asking me why I had resigned while confirming that I enjoyed his trust. I had told him that I would speak to him as soon as my anger faded away."

After a while, Castaldi Paris had sent an email to Gonzi asking for a meeting, "however I did not get any further than Castille's doorstep, because as soon as I got there I was informed that the prime minister was not available. Up to this day I am surprised why nobody asked me what was the reason behind my resignation."

Do you fear that the persons responsible for the party's woes hang on to their positions of power and influence?

"God forbid the people running the party stay there. Not everybody should be put on the same level, however let's put it this way, everybody played their part but maybe some people simply couldn't do any better. If anyone from the outgoing administration stays, it would be the PN's downfall. We need new faces. The disillusioned Nationalists and voters who gave their back to the PN will only return if there are fresh, clean and new faces, free of arrogance."

What kind of leader does the PN need?

"The party needs a leader which is down-to-earth and ready to reconcile with many Nationalists. The new leader cannot insist that we are right and they were wrong, otherwise the PN will remain in opposition for a long time. If we have a human, genuine leader who is ready to work together with everyone, the PN has a future."

Castaldi Paris underlines the importance of attracting people back to the party, saying: "If we have a leader who reconciles with many Nationalists, he would recreate a vibe and rebuild the PN from scratch. And by Nationalists I mean the scores of voters who deserted the party because they felt hard done by the PN, and not Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett."

But Castaldi Paris warns that if the new PN leader is arrogant or does not see the need for reconciliation, the PN will crash into a wall.

Do any of the possible contenders possess these qualities? "Yes, you must judge a person's qualities when the person is left to work freely, when you work in the shadow of somebody else you cannot fulfil your full potential. I believe that among the persons being mentioned as contenders, some are more capable than others. Some need to make an effort to be genuine and down-to-earth... to others, it comes naturally."

Will the outgoing administration hold any sway on the choice of the new leader?

"I hope that the councillors who will choose the leader are not influenced by cliques and gangs which belong to the past. I really hope that people vote freely without being impressed by certain surnames."

Castaldi Paris says that opening the voting process to all party members makes sense because it would give the election more legitimacy. However he is adamant that the 900 councillors will make a mature decision.

"When the party is in government, the party councillors would be heavily influenced by the outgoing prime minister. But in this situation, the councillors are so distraught and disappointed at the party's failure to avoid defeat, I think they will not be influenced and will choose the leader who can bring about change."

He explains that in a situation were the outgoing leader is also a prime minister, things could easily be dictated by the leader but this time around the decision will be taken in a context where the party leader suffered a heavy defeat, meaning that councillors would not give weight to what the outgoing administration, responsible for every decision taken in the past years has to say.

Is it right that the PN's secretary-general is chosen by the party's executive, possibly influenced by the new leader?

"If I were the party leader I would not want a secretary-general who is a liability. I believe that the party leader will back the most competent candidate from what I believe will be a field of very competent candidates."

On the incumbent, Paul Borg Olivier, he says: "Without delving too much into the matter, I think that even the man in the street would tell you that we did not have a capable and competent secretary-general. He was capable in many aspects but he was not able to lead the party's internal affairs. The electoral result itself also spells things out very clearly."

What kind of secretary-general does the PN need?

"The PN needs a secretary general who is human, honest, charismatic, decisive, sensitive and guarantee that the party's structures work efficiently, including the party clubs."

He adds that the secretary-general should not surround himself with allies but people who are competent.

"We need a secretary-general who can be the leaders' right hand man, and I believe that the party lacked all of this in recent years. He must be able to identify and relate to all kinds of people, and be equally comfortable dealing with people from both ends of society. The secretary-general must be a driver, be present at all times and motivate co-workers. In recent years everything was abandoned within the party."

The Lija mayor adds that the party's finances should be put on a strong footing, airing his fear that "the haemorrhage of finances was equal to that of voters".

Castaldi Paris adds that the party's companies should operate on a commercial basis and be separate from the secretary-general's remit who cannot juggle the political and administrative aspects simultaneously.

"You cannot focus on the political scenario if you also need to manage and direct ten companies at the same time."

He points out the need to have a secretary-general directly involved the reconciliation process and the need to get the party in order.

"We must return to a time were the PN headquarters was a beehive of activity and no longer empty and bare as it was up to three months before the election. It must once again become the home of all. I know of PN diehards who voted Labour because they are adamant that they will not return to the fold before new faces are introduced."

"I am disappointed, not for the defeat itself but for the way we were defeated. We shot ourselves in the feet and hurt many persons. At the polling station on 9 March I was approached by many persons who told me that they were forced into voting against the PN because that was the only way things would change."

Insisting that he always remained loyal to the party, "despite being very hurt when it was being said that I was no longer interested in politics. In reality, all doors were being shut in my face."

He explains that when he contested the PN general council presidency in 2009, he was at first told not to bother contesting, and after decided to contest the people in the party's administration "who destroyed the party" and made phone calls to councillors telling them that the party's orders were to vote for Paula Mifsud Bonnici, who eventually won 66.4% of the vote against Castaldi Paris's 33.6%.

"When they saw that I was doing well they started calling people to tell them what the party's orders were. When it came to voting day we had people pointing at who councillors should vote for on the ballot paper. I reported the matter to the party, but no action was taken."

What would he bring to the table if elected secretary-general?

"The first thing I would do is issue a call for all persons who are ready to work for the party, at all levels. I would start by opening the doors to all and make everyone feel welcome. Nationalists are dying to give their input. I would also open the party up to all voters who have turned their back on the party."

He envisages an inclusive party which puts down its barriers and welcome whoever is willing to work with and for the party. He also wants a party which pays its spiralling debts, restructures the party clubs and gives them a central role in the party's running, farms out the television station and makes sure that it is run professionally, while also ensuring that the party does not belong to development magnates, "but to all".

He stresses that most contractors do not expect any favours in return for any donations, but they just want to be treated equally and fairly, especially by MEPA.

"A donation of €1 should be treated equally to one of €100. You cannot have donors handing out thousands of euros to the PN - let's be clear such donors do not do so because they love the secretary-general or the party, they do so because they expect something in return," Castaldi Paris said in clear reference to the €250,000 donation the PN received by construction magnate Zaren Vassallo.

"Renewal cannot happen with old faces. People were discouraged in joining the party and giving their input because they were greeted by dinosaurs who would boot you out as soon as they realised you might trespass their territory. If the party does not choose wisely, we will remain in the opposition for years and years," he warns.

"The party must remain the PN, I see no need to change the name, the emblem or the anthem. What needs to change is the need to become an inclusive party as it once was, sensitive to people's needs and aspirations, with humble but strong leadership."

"If I become secretary general I will demand that all persons working within the party structures are humble and show people that they belong there. The PN needs to rekindle the enthusiasm and get people back on board."

He adds that he will meet the PN executive members individually, lead a serene campaign and "if they trust me I believe I can help rebuild the party, by being myself.

I will offer genuineness, decisiveness, sensitivity and a willingness to work with all. I will not promise a pie in the sky but I will keep doing what I have always done. I must thank every person who did his part for the party but its time to have a new PN."

As I commented previously, you are stating too many facts, for your own good, please find people within the party who will vocally support you, otherwise the PN propaganda machine,still operated by the clique, will be put on 'thrashing' and just as they did before even in your case, they will stop you even before you start. Otherwise I sincerely believe you have got what it takes to start the PN on the right track again. So go for it, wishing you every success
Emmanuel Mallia
We are hearing of lots of excuses and issues for the defeat, and possible candidates for the leadership. No one has blamed those two at the back helm ! They were and still are in control, keeping a very low profile, as if they had nothing to do with it. Unless these two are exposed, and expelled from the party, no new face, or issue, will ever change the reputation.
But why do you keep insisting that the Pn should be changed drastically. You are simply sounding your political death knell. It's all wishful thinking and the klikka or oligarchy will soon be at your throat to do what's best for them. So please dear mayor stop daydreaming. Do you thing you can get rid of Aust (AG) RCC Claudio Grech and others who have a stranglehold on the party ? You have been voted out with a landslide vote and you will remain in opposition till the end of the century. So dont waste your time and energy.
Jiena wisq nibza' li l-PN se jkollu hafna kaptani li jahsbu li huma biss kapaci jmexxu l-vapur il-quddiem. Ikun ahjar ftit aktar umilta' u kulhadd ikun lest li jahden f'team. Hekk biss jista' jkollna Oppozizzjoni genwina u gvern futur kif ghandu jkun.
Maureen Attard
Tony Vella: Sew qed tghid. Imma mid-dehra il-gebel tal-pedament kollu immellaħ kollu hemm ser jibqa, inkluż kulħadd, anke dawk li kkontestawx l-elezzjoni li għaddiet u kienu ministri li ma rikbux bl-Arriva għax kellhom id-driver u karrozza governattiva biex twassalhom.
Ikun kollu għallxejn jekk ma jinbidilx il-ġebel imnawwar tal-pediment. Partit ġdid irid ikollu pedamenti sodi.Jekk ma jitneħħewx il-ġebel immermer kollu umdita',bini zlugat ikollok. Dan bħall meta jkollok gvern korrott,trid tneħħi lill min hu korrott biex tkun tista tibni gvern mingħajr id-dell tal-korruzzjoni. U hemm ġebel immermer naqra sewwa mhux ħazin x'jitneħħa.
Dment li Dr. Edward Fenech Adami ta' kull nhar ta' 15 ta' Ottubru jibqa jidher li hu kien xi vittma ta' vjolenza min-nahha tal-MLP (meta harqulu l-bictejn ghamara u hu kien jaf minn qabel skond l-Inkjesta Muscat Azzoppardi li heba hu stess)u ma jghidx il-verita fuq il-frame-up ta' missieri Karm Grima, cioe min kien ghamlu u x'sehem kellhom id-dirigenti tal-PN f'dan il-frame-up, il-PN tilef il-valuri Kristjani u Alla L-Imbierek telqu.Ghalxejn niktiblu lil Dr. EFA u nakkuzah b'affarijiet serji li wettaq fi zmienu ghax ma jwiegibnix.OMERTA'biex jahbi l-passat iswed tieghu