The Gonzi legacy | 10 moments that made and unmade him

Reliving the Lawrence Gonzi legacy in 10 moments that epitomised the former prime minister's administration.

GonziPN in 2008 - how to win against all odds...
GonziPN in 2008 - how to win against all odds...

MPs' honoraria

This was arguably one of Gonzi's main headaches and a poignant reflection of his leadership style, even when he may have been motivated by the right reasons. In June 2008, upon re-election, he raised Cabinet salaries by an amount equivalent to the MPs' honorarium that government ministers previously forfeited: equivalent to a €500 weekly increase. MaltaToday broke the story in November 2008, but it was only before Labour leader Joseph Muscat raised the matter in the House in 2010 that things turned sour. Gonzi argued that ministers should be paid their parliamentary honorarium, but it turned out that it was not being paid from the House of Representatives but from the ministry's budget; additionally the Speaker's and Opposition leader's salaries were not topped up. Adding insult to injury? The ministers were paid a higher honorarium than backbench MPs. Cue nationwide resentment, backbench revolt, a step back by ordering ministers to refund only the higher portion they were paid in 2011, and finally a total U-turn in 2012.

Divorce referendum


Gonzi's one-seat majority in 2008 had been secured by turning the allegedly culpable Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando into a martyr of Alfred Sant's bullying: despite being re-elected, JPO faced calls from inside the PN and its media satellites to resign, a factor that pushed him into open conflict with the party leadership. Single-handedly, he rolled down a boulder that exposed the stubbornness and conservative inertia of the prime minister by filing a private member's bill to legislate divorce. Gonzi said the matter should be decided by referendum, provoking a bitter campaign fought out between lay religious groups and secularists - both Nationalist and Labourites - openly backed by Joseph Muscat. The divorce vote wins, but in parliament Gonzi still does not vote for the bill, relying on a safe majority of votes to ensure it will pass.

The 2008 financial crisis

Little could have prepared Lawrence Gonzi for the effects of the financial storm that hit European and the rest of the world in 2008. Before his re-election, Gonzi had warned of soaring food prices but the effects of the 2008 crisis put business on hold in Malta and threatened factory jobs actively. Gonzi intervened with an undisclosed amount of financial aid for factories that saved 5,000 jobs, a crucial injection that kept the Maltese economy steady in years to come and kept the industrial peace. He later boasted that his government had created 20,000 jobs altogether in five years, and that creating employment was his government's major hallmark. In several PQs, it turned out that some 23,000 jobs his government 'created' in the last years, 7,971 pertained to workers made redundant and whose jobs were safeguarded. Of the rest, 8,775 were part-time jobs and the remaining 7,193 were full-time jobs.

Franco Debono, parliamentary assistants and confidence vote

First-time MP Franco Debono managed to come out top in the fifth district, facing off heavyweight minister Louis Galea. Some say it was Gonzi's strategy to promote new faces and other 'change agents' that created the Debono phenomenon. But nothing could have prepared Gonzi for the rebellious wilfulness of the MP, who felt scorned at not being given due importance within the backbench or not taking his vocal criticism of shortcomings in the field of justice, seriously by exposing the weakness of his one-seat majority. Gonzi created a system of parliamentary assistants to bring MPs closer to ministers, installing Debono as his own assistant. But fearing his justified demands were being mocked and wilfully denigrated by Gonzi supporters and constituency rivals, Debono rebelled by threatening Austin Gatt's position on the Arriva debacle, and then one minister after the other in confidence votes. He knocked off home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici, but only after a Cabinet reshuffle did not regale him with the justice ministry (formerly Mifsud Bonnici's before the portfolio was split). In the end, Debono brought Gonzi down by voting against the Budget and taking Malta into (not so) early elections.

Libya


Lawrence Gonzi's finest hour. Only weeks after having embraced the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a neighbour who threatened Europeans with organised mass immigration of undocumented asylum seekers, Gonzi was forced to take sides on the 17 February revolution. With two fighter jet pilots defecting from the Libyan army by landing in Malta, Gonzi gave the two pilots safe harbour and then quickly put into place a coordination effort to turn Malta into a logistical base for the evacuation of tens of thousands of foreign workers from Libya. It was possibly the moment that Gonzi could have used to successfully win re-election after Joseph Muscat naively commented that the Libyan conflict could divert tourism to Malta.

Euro conversion

A 'gamble' that paid dividends. Lawrence Gonzi's decision to have the ambitious euro changeover set for 1 January, 2008 had been strongly discouraged by some Cabinet ministers. Apart from the glitch that saw the Prime Minister himself being refused euros from an ATM on the night of the changeover in full glare of the press, the euro changeover was unusually smooth. Most shops were trading in euros, and many seem to have taken the change in currency - the second in four decades - in their stride. Banks dispensed over €83 million within 100 hours while 73% of Maltese were paying in euros only. Malta was the country with the second most effective and easy changeover.

GonziPN campaign

How to win government when it is unpopular and your ministers belong to a creaky establishment? GonziPN allowed Lawrence Gonzi to use his relatively successful four years in government and his own personal charisma to reach out to voters unsure of re-electing Alfred Sant - already trusted with government back in 1996 - and Labour. Gonzi focused on a promise of change and attacked Sant as a tried, tested but untrusted leader. He also promoted new candidates and took the limelight away from his old ministers. GonziPN gave him the crucial trust rating that always gives leaders a sure ticket to power, but he paid dearly for it. Winning a relative majority, he only gets a one-seat majority, leaving him open to the discontent from former ministers whom he dismisses by SMS and the scorned Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. From 2008 onwards, every triumph but mostly disasters, will be labelled 'GonziPN', practically putting Gonzi under attack from all sides.

Dalligate


Gonzi's disastrous handling of John Dalli's investigation in 2004, on the back of an unproven allegation of kickbacks is repeated in 2012, this time by José Barroso. Gonzi will always have to contend with the influence held by his former leadership rival. After forcing him to resign in 2004, he reintegrates him to some form of influence before the 2008 election in the form of 'advisor'. Dalli is re-elected and appointed social policy and health minister, but as Gonzi fears that he might still be gunning for the party leadership, he kicks him upstairs to the European Commission. When OLAF start investigating Dalli on allegations that he was behind an attempt at bribery, the OPM's internal audit and investigations department is drafted in to assist the investigation. Dalli's resignation is followed by an instant, perhaps automatic replacement - party deputy leader Tonio Borg, who paves the way for the election of another anointed, Simon Busuttil, who is today the new PN leader.

Privatisation - dockyard, Air Malta, Arriva

Gonzi continued the legacy of privatisation that Eddie Fenech Adami's governments started. In the case of the Malta Drydocks, Gonzi had zeroed some €800,000 in debt and provided alternative government jobs for redundant workers. Selling MDD to Italians Palumbo may have resolved government's debt problem with the facility, but not before a serious financial misappropriation took place over the notorious Fairmount contract, the job that spelt the end of the shipyards. In the meantime, his government had to undertake a plan to safeguard Air Malta as the European Commission was brought in to bless a restructuring plan to downsize the debt-ridden airline. Gonzi had to intervene by forming a task force to coordinate a disastrous launch of the new, liberalised public transport service run by Arriva, which was plagued by shortcomings, provoking a short-lived hunger strike by a disabled commuter and almost costing transport minister Austin Gatt his job. Gonzi went out on a limb to save Gatt from a confidence vote, by putting his government at stake, and he won the vote when Franco Debono decided to abstain.

Energy tariffs

Under Gonzi, energy was no longer as cheap as chips. Implementing an urgently-needed cost recovery plan for Enemalta, Gonzi and Austin Gatt hiked up energy tariffs but the social and commercial backlash was so intense, it might have given Labour the ticket to victory. While tariffs were hiked, energy benefits for low-income earners and capped bills for large businesses left an unhappy middle-class carrying the burden. Energy inflation became a major issue left to fester without any reasonable attempt at creating renewable energy solutions, while unregulated groundwater extraction continued unabated by large businesses. The creation of a new billing company owned by Enemalta and the Water Services Corporation - dubbed ARMS or automated revenue management services - was simply another disaster that created wrong bills and sent half the nation crazy with long queues to have their bills rectified. Muscat took the cue to guarantee lower bills with a natural gas powered station: the question now is whether Muscat will live up to his promise or not.

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I hope this is just PART ONE
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JIEN IL-PRIM-MINISTRU , JIEN IL-GVERN! And look where it got him.... and where it got us PAYING FOR HIS PERKS like the Roofless Theatre and Parliament Building which is not even Malta's but rent being paid to SPVS!
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Emmanuel Mallia
As a Prime Minister, a stubborn mind, an almost dictator, a very cunning lawyer, and pretended to be a catholic Prime Minister ?
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And what about numerious cases that are coming to light now such as Rita Schembri, Marthese Portelli taking money for 11 meeting she did not attend. Two cars for each minister and Euro37,000 in mainteneance of the PM BMW. I have BMW and never spent that kind of meaintenance
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what about the power station extension saga and the city gate fiasco and many more issues where gonzi defied the will of the people thus making history in procuring a devastating loss to the nationalist party.