Robert Abela's surprise reshuffle leaves Aaron Farrugia out in the cold

Cabinet reshuffle: Chris Bonett made minister • Clint Camilleri gets planning with Gozo Ministry • Backbenchers Malcom Paul Agius Galea, Omar Farrugia and Glenn Bedingfield appointed parliamentary secretaries • Jo Etienne Abela gets health • Aaron Farrugia only one to be axed

Updated at 7:29pm with government statement

Prime Minister Robert Abela axed Aaron Farrugia from his Cabinet in a reshuffle that saw Chris Bonett being made minister and three backbenchers promoted to parliamentary secretaries.

The reshuffle on Saturday caught ministers by surprise as Abela spent a full day meeting Cabinet members and backbench MPs.

At the end of the day, unsurprisingly, Abela made it official that Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne will be Malta's nominee for European Commissioner after the June MEP elections.

Fearne will remain in government until he formally takes up the Brussels job but his health portfolio has now been shifted to Jo Etienne Abela, the minister for active ageing.

The reshuffle sees three Labour MPs being promoted to parliamentary secretaries - Malcolm Paul Agius Galea, who will be responsible for the elderly under Jo Etienne Abela; Omar Farrugia, who will be responsible for public works under Chris Bonett; and Glenn Bedingfield, who will be responsible for public cleansing under Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo.

The biggest promotion of the day was Bonett, who was given the important and very visible ministry of transport, infrastructure and public works. Bonett, who was elected to parliament for the first time in 2022, was previously parliamentary secretary for European funds.


The transport and infrastructure ministry was previously run by Aaron Farrugia, while public works fell within the remit of Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.

Aaron Farrugia was the biggest loser of the day, having been left out in the cold, while Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi saw all key elements of his portfolio – planning, public works and construction reform – being apportioned to other ministers in what appears to be a snub.

Zrinzo Azzopardi will now be responsible for the Lands Authority and what has been termed as "the implementation of the electoral programme", a responsibility that Joseph Muscat had introduced in 2013 but later ditched by Abela.

Planning conundrum

A notable change will be the addition of the planning portfolio to Clint Camilleri’s Gozo Ministry, a move that is likely to strengthen his hand but one that is expected to find little support from environmental organisations.

Camilleri, an architect by profession, enjoys close relations with contractors and developers, a position that could create friction at a time when communities are pushing back against unbridled construction.

Several ministers, including Clyde Caruana, Clifton Grima, Ian Borg, Byron Camilleri and Owen Bonnici retained their portfolios.

Horizontal changes

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard retained his portfolio but will also be responsible for the reform in the construction industry.

With the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry report expected to be published in March, Attard will be responsible for implementing any changes proposed by the board.

Miriam Dalli retained the energy and environment portfolios but lost enterprise to Silvio Schembri. Instead, Dalli was handed the specific job to regenerate the Grand Harbour, something the Prime Minister gave a lot of importance to late last year.

Fearne's temporary portfolio includes European funds, social dialogue and consumer affairs with Andy Ellul as parliamentary secretary. This move could eventually see Ellul being elevated to minister with the same responsibilities when Fearne resigns from government.

Responding to disgruntlement

The reshuffle came just under two years since the general election at a time when polls are showing flagging support for the Labour Party as a result of voters saying they will abstain.

The promotion of Glenn Bedingfield to parliamentary secretary is in part a response to disgruntlement in Labour’s hinterland given his closeness to the grassroots.

A Cabinet member who wanted to remain anonymous and who spoke to MaltaToday, said although the suddenness of the reshuffle came as a surprise this was the ideal window for the Prime Minister to act.

“He is going for a crucial game and every coach changes their players to go down on the pitch with the best team and timing-wise this was the only window of opportunity to carry out a reshuffle,” they said.

“Any reshuffle in April or May would have meant that any newcomers to Cabinet would still be in the running in phase by the end of the year. A newcomer needs at least six months to settle down, set up a secretariat and understand what is happening, while a minister who gets a new portfolio requires at least three months to acclimatise themselves with the new responsibilities.”