Looking forward to the spotlight | Ann Fenech

After a lifetime of facing problems and finding solutions in the maritime industry, Ann Fenech is set to take the plunge into the presidency of a party still coming to grips with putting its house in order

Ann Fenech (centre) presenting the PN electoral analysis report to PN leader Simon Busuttil
Ann Fenech (centre) presenting the PN electoral analysis report to PN leader Simon Busuttil

Nationalists need to start feeling a sense of belonging, with the party having detached itself from them, the sole candidate for president of the PN, Ann Fenech, told MaltaToday.

A direct line of communication between the party and its members needs to be created and strengthened. This can be achieved by immediately identifying those who were traditionally Nationalists but for various reasons either did not vote or voted Labour. However, simply identifying them is not enough, Fenech explains. "We need to reach out to these people, listen to their pains and plan the way forward." Involving the party members in regular meetings creates a feel-good factor, gives people a sense of belonging and brings them together in a winning team.

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Only if the party shows it cares for its members and comes to grips with the situation can the dream of winning the next election materialise, Fenech said. With the look of someone who is determined not to see her beliefs shattered, she continued, "Of course we can win. Whether we will or not depends on a number of factors. Committing to the members and tending to the ones we lost is the first step."

On Friday, as chairperson of the board that analysed the PN's massive loss, Ann Fenech presented Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil with the board's analysis. "This was no simple feat, she says with satisfaction. Anyone who wanted to hang their dirty laundry was welcomed to do so. We listened to every complaint, read each of the 2,300 emails and pored over the huge number of letters we received at a purposely set-up P.O. Box." Members of the board also met in person anyone who expressed a wish to meet and talk. Sectional committees in every local village were met for discussion, and every word was noted. Whatever way the views and opinions came, whether through social media or from focus groups, opinions were never turned away.

Every article and post published in the electoral campaign was reviewed and discussed with past and present members of Parliament. The board listened to MP's who had served under Eddie Fenech Adami and George Borg Olivier to better look at Labour's historical win from three angles: Why did the PN lose? Why did Labour win? What about the way forward? The report now lies in the hands of newly elected party leader Simon Busuttil and in the coming days is expected to be discussed by the party executive.

But surely such a sensitive report was of utmost importance for a party which, after securing government in four consecutive elections, suffered the biggest electoral loss in Maltese history.

Fenech disagreed forcefully with this, stating that the most important step after the election was for the party to regroup and reorganise its ranks. "The party machine could not afford to stop and analyse and lose weeks of momentum. The people needed to see that the party was reacting, things were happening - and furthermore, the report could not have been finalised any quicker," she said.

On the election of the two deputy leaders, she said: "I'm happy with the two deputy leaders and with the fact that the PN can now cater to different needs of the party. The fact that the PN has copied the Labour model is completely irrelevant."

One of the main issues that irked people under the PN was meritocracy. Once more a giggle escaped Fenech, as she explained that the PN had not only applied the meritocratic ideal, but did so in such an extreme way as to anger its own supporters. The fact that people with known Labour sentiments were appointed to boards and given positions of authority was highlighted when Dr George Abela, a Labour deputy leader, was appointed President. The Nationalist government overlooked how people felt and simply appointed people because they deserved to be there.

"Labour do not even know the meaning of the word," she laughed, reminding me that the Labour machine attracted well-known people and made them talk about meritocracy. "Clearly getting a thank-you appointment after you appear on a billboard singing my praises does not fall into the definition of the word 'meritocracy,'" she said. And this does not even include the removal of people who were above politics. Why were Antonio Ghio and David Felice removed from their posts?

In a country where everyone knows one another, the need for party officials to declare their financial interests does not feature high on Fenech's agenda. "I need to learn how the party's accounting exercise is done and not be presumptuous." The report will also outline solutions to the party's financial situation and the use of its newspaper, television and radio stations. "I haven't given finances any real thought, and I still need to ponder the financial reports thoroughly," she said, "but the report compiled by the board outlines a number of issues on the matter and proposes ways forward. However it would be premature to air the board's conclusions prior to the party executive resting its eyes on the report."

Back on the topic of the party presidency, the maritime lawyer said it would be presumptuous of her to say what she can propose. She wants to start returning people to the party they knew - the party that stood for democracy, the party that believed in the capabilities of individuals, that supports hard work and honesty, the Nationalist Party which was there for those who needed support.

Ann Fenech

Fenech is the wife of Thomas and the mother of Matthew and Tom. The family is the apple of her eye she says proudly. She considers herself very fortunate to have been raised by parents who instilled in her the belief that loyalty, determination and hard work are non-negotiable. Her 25 years of professional life in the maritime industry were devoted to the advancement of the maritime sector on the island. And now, with the election of party president at the doorstep, Fenech reiterates that she believed, still believes and will always believe in the strength, wisdom and foresight of the PN.

She looks forward to the role fully aware that it will place her in the spotlight of media scrutiny.

"I'm as ready for this as anyone could ever be," she said, "but I would like to see politics evolve into an arena that discusses and criticises politicians on their ability to deliver the agenda people have voted for. We need to move away from cheap-shot politics which attempt to throw bad light on others just for the heck of it."

"Politicians need to behave properly, commit and perform," she said. They are in the public eye and they must realise that part of their private life is forsaken. "However there is a limit to everything... including the scrutiny," Fenech laughed.