[WATCH] Abela shies away from speaking about reshuffle and MP demotion in first political activity of 2024

Throughout his one-hour speech, the Prime Minister did not address MP Aaron Farrugia's demotion nor did he provide an explanation for the surprise reshuffle • Abela bites the bullet, names his 'friend Joseph Muscat'

Prime minister Robert Abela addressing party supporters in Gzira on Sunday
Prime minister Robert Abela addressing party supporters in Gzira on Sunday

In his first address of the year, and the first since the surprise reshuffle on Saturday, Prime Minister Robert Abela not only refrained from discussing the demotion of MP Aaron Farrugia but also steered clear of addressing the reshuffle itself.

The only instance he mentioned the cabinet, which underwent significant changes the previous night, was when he mocked the PN, stating that it recognises its importance only when in opposition.

“The cabinet, responsible for making decisions on behalf of everyone every day, is acknowledged by the opposition only in principle, but adhered to only when they find themselves in the opposition,” Abela remarked on Sunday morning.

Addressing party supporters and MPs at the Orpheum in Gzira, Abela expressed gratitude to his colleagues, thanking also "his friend Chris Fearne".

On Saturday, Abela officially announced that Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne would be Malta's nominee for European Commissioner after the June MEP elections. He also joined Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri in his speech, to wish him luck in his new adventure.

However, just as the reshuffle on Saturday caught ministers by surprise, the demotion of former Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia to the public also took everyone off guard.

READ MORE: Aaron Farrugia axed, as Abela announces new cabinet

Farrugia, the sole member from the previous cabinet who did not secure a role in Robert Abela's new cabinet, initially elected in 2017, served as Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds and Social Dialogue in former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s cabinet. In Abela’s first term as Prime Minister, Farrugia then assumed the role of Minister for the Environment, Climate Change & Planning. Transitioning from one substantial ministry to another, Farrugia subsequently held the portfolio for infrastructure, transport, and capital projects.

Throughout his one-hour speech, Abela did not address this demotion or provide an explanation, leaving many baffled.

READ MORE: Your guide to Robert Abela’s new Cabinet

Abela bites the bullet, names 'his friend joseph Muscat'

Robert Abela has often faced criticism, along with the Labour Party, for avoiding the proverbial elephant in the room and not acknowledging his predecessor, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Even when Malta confronted the damning ruling in 2023, where Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale criticised Vitals, Steward, and the government, suggesting 'fraudulent intent.'

As the government maintained its stance and presented a brave front, there was something missing in the narrative, and none of the party members mentioned the name of Joseph Muscat.

However, that changed on Sunday.

Addressing his new executive team, MPs, and party supporters, Robert Abela acknowledged Joseph Muscat, referring to him as his friend.

This gesture elicited one of the most significant applause moments of the entire event, with some attendees chanting his name and whistling enthusiastically.

“We had so much good to build on. That [electoral] program was already ambitious enough to address new priorities. I prefer to focus on the future of the country, but I would be remiss not to recognise the team that made this possible,” Abela said before moving on to his next agenda item.

'Our country has a good year ahead of it'

Robert Abela also celebrated his four-year anniversary since assuming office in 2020. 

Emphasising the government's commitment to the people, Abela went over the increases in benefits, wages, and allowances, set to take effect this month.

These included the “largest-ever increase” in minimum wage, “a record boost” in pensions, “unprecedented support” for widows, the rise in the rent benefit, and an enhancement in the Carer at Home scheme.

Abela expressed his enthusiasm for the positive changes achieved in the past four years and outlined upcoming priorities. 

He mentioned the regeneration in the Grand Harbour, reforms in the Construction Sector, “environmentally conscious planning,” and initiatives to protect consumers while combating the cost of living.

Abela reassured the public amid international challenges, emphasising the government's ability to overcome obstacles and create opportunities, particularly in maintaining stability in energy prices.

In the face of political disruptions and fear propagated by the opposition, Abela urged citizens to stand united, defending Malta's interests together. 

He extended an invitation to all who believe in the country, emphasising the choice between supporting the party or embodying the spirit of Team Malta, working collaboratively for the nation's benefit. 

"Together, we believe in a just Malta. Together, we strengthen our Malta," concluded Abela in his speech.