[WATCH] Robert Abela does U-turn, says wife will not tender for government work

Labour leadership hopeful Robert Abela was interviewed on TVM’s Xtra

Robert Abela
Robert Abela

Robert Abela’s wife will not be tendering for any government work if he is elected prime minister, the leadership candidate said in a U-turn on the matter.

Abela said he will aspire for higher ethical standards and insisted his wife Lydia Abela, a partner in the family legal firm, will not be bidding for work in the public sector.

The decision is a reversal of what Abela told MaltaToday on Wednesday when he insisted his wife and the family firm should not be denied the opportunity to bid for government work.

Abela’s initial declaration did not go down too well among party members, which is what probably prompted the change in direction.

Abela was speaking on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night, in what turned out to be an animated exchange with programme host Saviour Balzan.

The leadership contestant kicked off the programme by insisting on a reform of the national broadcaster, including how its newsroom works, the composition of the board and questioning the permanency of Xarabank, which he did not mention by name.

When it was pointed out by Balzan that in the face of all the problems facing the country, Abela chose to focus on PBS, the leadership contestant insisted he could not ignore a reality people were speaking about.

“The PBS reform had to be done, needs to be done and I will do it if elected leader… the reform will be done to strengthen PBS and make it neutral, effective and independent,” Abela insisted.

The Labour MP described his campaign as simple and humble. “I met people on the street, in bars, at the markets… it was a campaign with the people, about the people,” Abela said.

In a dig at his rival Chris Fearne, Abela insisted that he only started his leadership campaign when the Prime Minister announced his resignation. “I remained shoulder to shoulder with prime Minister until the end… I made no manoeuvres to undermine him and this is why I am the underdog,” Abela said.

He added that there was a need to ensure continuity but the mistakes that were done have to be fixed.

“Reforms have to be done… this is not a business as usual situation. On good governance, we now have the Venice Commission report. I had wanted a pro-active approach to make changes before these were suggested but today there is a report that we cannot ignore. However, we must not implement it lock, stock and barrel,” Abela said.

He reiterated that one of the recommendations he agreed with was giving the president more power to appoint members of the judiciary and taking this away from the prime minister’s hands.

He said another measure would be to lengthen the list of public officials who need to be scrutinised by parliament’s public appointments committee.

Asked about his ability to work with Cabinet members and the Labour parliamentary group, who have mostly pledged their support to Fearne, the Labour MP said he made no divisive statements in his campaign.

“I spoke with all the parliamentary group members and they are ready to work with me… I have a level of cordiality with each of them,” he said, adding he will not put pressure on anyone or promise anything to anybody.

Abela said his choice of Cabinet would be based solely on performance and not on allegiance.

In two digs towards his rival, Abela said the morrow of his election there will be no celebrations (Fearne has booked a victory party) and would expect every minister and parliamentary secretary to get down to work.

He also took a dig at Fearne’s pledge not to have a chief of staff in the prime minister’s office. “Working without a chief of staff means the office will crumble before it starts. The mistake was that the head of secretariat, because that is what a chief of staff is, was allowed to appropriate more powers over all of government… I will be the prime minister and decisions that need to be taken will be taken by me and my Cabinet and no one else.”

Abela said it was his belief the Nationalist Party will have a new leader for the next general election. “I will win the next election against a new PN leader, who will be a lawyer,” Abela replied when asked whether he was confident of winning the general election for the PL.