[WATCH] Labour was never going to lose power after five years, former minister insists

Former Finance minister Tonio Fenech was a guest on Xtra on Thursday where he discussed his time in politics as well as his plans for the future

Former Finance minister Tonio Fenech
Former Finance minister Tonio Fenech

The idea that the Nationalist Party could be returned to power after just five years was not a realistic one and one that should never have been publicised, according to former Finance minister Tonio Fenech.

Fenech was a guest on Xtra Sajf hosted by Saviour Balzan, where he discussed a host of topics, including the start of his political career, the difficulties of being a politician and his plans for the future.

Fenech said he was attracted to politics after the 1996 election, when the country voted former Prime Minister Alfred Sant into power.

“I was surprised how after the ear of Mintoff and Karmenu Mifusd Bonnici, in a such a short time, effectively only 10 years, the nation appeared to have forgotten and went back to the Labour Party,” Fenech said.

He said he could not accept that Sant’s government was elected on a pledge to freeze Malta’s application to join the European Union.

Fenech explained that politics had brought about good and bad moments. He said that he was proud and happy to have served the country over his 20-year political career. On the other hand, he said it was disappointing to know that half of the country did not believe he had done anything for the country, adding that the “demonization of the other side” was a problem with politics, especially in Malta.

‘I told Simon five years was not enough’

Balzan then asked Fenech for his analysis on the PN’s loss in the 2017 general election, offering three potential explanations: that an election can’t be won solely on arguments related to corruption, that it was too soon for the nation to return the PN to power, or that the PN was not offering the country anything new.

“I had told Simon Busuttil from the start that he should not sell the idea that he could win the election in five years,” responded Fenech.

He said that in his view, in the first five years of a new party in government, the nation is always going to give that government the benefit of the doubt, even if they make mistakes. “It’s only logical.”

“The second point was that the economy was doing well so there wasn’t much reason to change,” he said, adding that the Labour Party had kept the economy going in a direction that allowed it to grow. “People had no reason to change so quickly.”

“Unfortunately, corruption has never won or lost an election,” he continued, but rather, was another consideration people made when weighing their options. 

In fact, he said that many had approached the party before the 2017 election and asked what plans it had for the country once it returned to power. “Criticism levelled towards the PN was that it was projecting nothing and that the campaign was concentrating on only one issue.”

Touching briefly upon the Egrant allegations levelled at the Prime Minister and his wife, Fenech said he had not commented on the issue before the election or indeed after it, and that he had no intention of doing so now.

He stressed that an election campaign could not be based on one election, even if it were true.

Adrian Delia deserves a chance

The conversation eventually turned to the current PN leadership, with Fenech being asked whether he believed that current leader Adrian Delia deserved to be given a chance.

“At the end of the day he was elected democratically, not everyone can agree with the leader that is elected but democracy should be respected,” he said. “This doesn’t mean there can’t be a debate, and I agree that it should be kept internal.”

Pressed on whether he felt comfortable with Delia on a moral level, Fenech said he felt that the PN’s handling of the recent amendments to the country’s IVF laws, and other issues related to the unborn child had been clear and strong.

He said that one would now have to see how the PN deals with other issues.

Not all politicians have a thick skin

Asked how he would react to being attacked by his opponents during his time in politics, Fenech said that while people assumed politicians all had a thick skin, this could not be further from the truth.

“Tonio Fenech never had a thick skin. I would go home and they were very ugly moments which affect me today,” he said, adding that this was one of the reaons he would not return to politics.

He said that there were many stories that would do a lot of personal damage, even when it turned out that they were untrue.

There is nothing wrong with having Catholic values

Earlier this month it was announced that Fenech, along with a number of other prominent personalities, had set up Catholic Voices Malta, an organisation which is part of an international network on whose aim will be that of supporting and promoting catholic values.

He stressed that while he had decided to leave politics, this did not mean that he no longer loved and wanted to serve his country.

Fenech explained how he has become increasingly more concerned by the fact that over the last few years, a number of politicians were propagating the idea that the values he personally held should not influence society.

“So what values should influence society, why is it that Catholic values shouldn’t influence society,” he said.

Fenech insisted that he believed that the Maltese population had based its values and beliefs in politicians too much over the years, and that through Catholic Voices, he hoped that people could be taught how to think for themselves.