[WATCH] Robert Abela rules out early general election, mum on reshuffle

Xtra on TVM | Prime Minister Robert Abela says he sees no reason to hold an early election, defends MFSA chief from calls of resignation

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Robert Abela has ruled out an early election, insisting it would be irresponsible to hold one in the middle of a pandemic.

The Prime Minister, who has been critical of the Nationalist Party for holding a leadership election in the midst of a pandemic, said it would be contradictory for him to opt for a general election in the circumstances.

“I find no reason why we should go for an early election… it would be irresponsible to go for an election in the middle of a pandemic and likewise it would be irresponsible to do so in the middle of a recovery,” Abela said when interviewed on TVM’s Xtra.

The timing of the general election will depend on “the national interest”, he said.

This is the first time that Abela has effectively ruled out holding an early general election amid wild speculation that people could be called out to vote as early as next March.

The general election is due at the latest by September 2022.

With his statements on Thursday, the Prime Minister has almost ruled out an election anytime next year.

But when asked about growing speculation that a reshuffle is imminent, especially in the wake of Miriam Dalli’s and Clyde Caruana’s co-option to parliament, Abela remained mum.

He refused to entertain questions about the subject, insisting, with a smile, that this was all “speculation”. But then he added cryptically: “We have the luxury of choice.”

Motives behind calls for MFSA CEO resignation questioned

Abela defended Malta Financial Services Authority CEO Joseph Cuschieri from calls for his resignation by the Nationalist Party.

Cuschieri ended in the eye of the storm after it emerged that in May 2018 he had travelled on a fully-expensed paid trip to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech, where he acted as consultant on gaming regulations. Cuschieri has denied any conflict of interest having already by then left the Malta Gaming Authority to join the MFSA as CEO.

The PN and rule of law NGO Repubblika have called for Cuschieri’s resignation or removal.

But Abela was unmoved when asked about the matter, suggesting the calls for Cuschieri’s resignation had ulterior motivations.

“From what I am seeing now Joseph Cuschieri had no conflict of interest at the time. Did he know back then that Yorgen Fenech was involved in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder? If yes it would change my judgement. But I do ask myself is this an attack against Cuschieri, an attack against people close to him who may have taken decisions that did not go down well, or an attack against the financial services sector to undermine the country?”

The use of the words “people close” to Cuschieri is ostensibly a reference to President George Vella, since the MFSA CEO is married to his daughter.

Last summer, Vella had denied Nationalist MPs the chance to install Therese Comodini Cachia instead of Adrian Delia as Opposition leader, following a contentious interpretation of the Constitution.

Abela said he was confident Malta would not fail the Moneyval test, a review of money laundering mechanisms, despite what he described as attacks by political opponents to undermine the financial services sector.

Asked about the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation, Abela insisted it was important for the country that justice is done expediently.

“We have to get to the bottom of this case,” he said.

But when it was pointed out that he was reluctant to give the Caruana Galizia public inquiry an extension, Abela said he gave the inquiry the extension that was requested of him.

Judges had asked for the term to be extended into December but legal representatives of the Caruana Galizia family and the Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt have insisted the government cannot have a say on an inquiry that was probing its operation. 

“The inquiry should be able to conclude its work because it is unacceptable that it meets only for a few hours a week,” the Prime Minister said.