03 March 2004

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Josef Bonnici earmarked for finance ministry
- Dalli appears ready to vacate Auberge d’Aragon

Profs Josef Bonnici is being earmarked as the next finance minister by the Lawrence Gonzi think tank. Profs Bonnici, best remembered as an academic who will have to match the robust and energetic Finance and Economic Affairs Minister John Dalli.
Josef Bonnici, who returned to Parliament last year through a casual election, may be offered another stint at ministerial level pending a possible cabinet reshuffle when newly elected PN leader Lawrence Gonzi is sworn in as prime minister.
On whether he has been approached by Gonzi himself to take on the finance ministry portfolio, he candidly refused to ‘make the news’ by choosing to answer neither positively nor negatively to questions put forward by The Malta Financial and Business Times on the job offer:
“This is something I cannot give an answer to. One is jumping the gun here. It is still too early and it is entirely up to the new prime minister to decide.”
Asked whether he would categorically confirm or deny that he has been approached for current Finance Minister John Dalli’s post, Bonnici said he would not answer any questions, nor would he deny the claim.
“You are putting me in a difficult position here,” he told this newspaper. “You are not going to get me to commit on either one thing or the other, since either answer will make the news for you. My preference is to say ‘no comment’.”

Bonnici also told this newspaper, when asked about his past experience at Auberge d’Aragon as Economic Affairs Minister, that during his tenure he had done a decent job when it came to investment promotion and job creation, and the sowing of projects such as the Lufthansa Teknik-Air Malta joint venture and the USS LaSalle contract. “Everybody can reach their own conclusion, but I think I did a good job,” Bonnici said.
Profs Bonnici, if confirmed, will have to ensure that enough revenue from tax collection is collected to feed the government budget. Yesterday former Bonnici canvassers and aides told this newspaper that Prof Bonnici believes that he is the man for the job.
If Profs Bonnici does take up the job, he would also be expected to serve as a replacement for Mr Dalli’s negotiating skills, which he last used in the final stages of the dockyard negotiations, even though the PN machine gave the impression that it was Dr Gonzi who had carried out the final negotiations.
Nationalist attempts to portray a semblance of serenity and calm in the post-leadership contest have been shattered by the confirmation of dirty campaigning against one of the contenders in the run up to the contest.
The Malta and Financial Business Times is also informed that the Finance and Economic Affairs Minister is being non-committal and appears intent on not retaining his position as Finance and Economic Affairs Minister.
He had indicated during his campaign that his ten-year tenure at the Finance Ministry was far too long.
The news, if true, would open up a void in a government that lacks the necessary hardware in human resources to tackle the serious economic and financial hurdles facing the country.
It is not clear what position outgoing Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, who is expected to be appointed President, is taking. His opinion on the matter will be crucial, as was the case with the election of Dr Gonzi, who was fortunate enough to be directly supported by the Prime Minister himself and the Nationalist party machinery headed by Joe Saliba.
Despite the slick and organised campaign by John Dalli, Lawrence Gonzi triumphed over John Dalli by a staggering 33 percentage points.
Dr Gonzi, who has attempted to give the impression that the party is united, was also fortunate to have his campaign wheels oiled by the expected arrival and timing of the populist talk show run by Joe Azzopardi - Malta’s answer to Jerry Springer. The talk show host, who heads up Malta’s most popular TV show, had cleverly sprung a TV survey indicating that over 70 per cent of all Maltese favoured Dr Gonzi to Mr Dalli - who they best remember as the infamous tax man.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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