16 March 2005

The Web

Credibility problems and cabinet reshuffles
Now that the dust is settling upon last Saturday’s local election results, the country awaits the Nationalist administration’s concrete reaction to the unequivocal thumbs down it received from the electorate.
The Prime Minister has gone on record saying he intends to take note of the result. These are the same words Lawrence Gonzi used after the debacle his party suffered in the European Parliament election last year.
The electorate expects the Prime Minister to deliver on his promise to ‘take note’.
Since June last year there has been little to suggest that the PN government has taken note of the disenchantment prevailing in the country. Controversial decisions continued to be implemented in a haphazard manner, with government having been constantly criticised over its lack of consultation with the stakeholders concerned.
It is one thing to take hard decisions because the country’s long term needs require so, but it is another matter altogether to simply bulldoze over the electorate’s head. In almost every decision taken, the government has failed to bring people on board.
Little or no communication with stakeholders, lack of preparedness that manifests itself in the number of u-turns government has had to make and ministerial arrogance have distanced the general public from the country’s administration.
Gonzi’s government is increasingly taking on the vestiges of an administration that cannot understand the way in which the country ticks.
The Nationalist Party has on its hands a major credibility problem to overcome. Gonzi cannot claim that the problems he is trying to tackle are the work of a previous Labour administration. They are problems created as a result of the economic and financial policies of previous Nationalist administrations.
This is a major handicap for the government. The dream depicted by the Nationalist Party prior to 2003 has suddenly turned into a nightmare for many people.
Surmounting this problem is no easy task and indeed Gonzi may not manage to overcome such a disadvantage. The Brussels embassy cash splurge, the new Mater Dei agreement, with government accepting to fork out around Lm40 million more than previously agreed in 2000, and the ill-timed announcement that the government wants to build a new Parliament building at the Valletta Opera House site, have not helped Gonzi one iota in trying to overcome this credibility problem.
Urgently and uncompromisingly, Gonzi now has to deliver on his promise to take note by moving on and taking decisive action. One strong message the Prime Minister could deliver to show he means business would be to reshuffle the Cabinet.
Performing such a reshuffle just one year after selecting a Cabinet could be interpreted as a sign of weakness on the Prime Minister’s part, but people will be ready to turn a blind eye. Gonzi could say that the Cabinet he selected last year was intended to offer a sense of continuation with the previous Fenech Adami administration and, now one year later and after a thorough evaluation of performance, it is time to change.
Gonzi could amalgamate some ministries, divest himself of finances, remove a couple of ministers and promote some of the backbenchers. Admittedly, his choice of capable and experienced people is limited but now is the time to risk. Gonzi’s problems cannot get worse than Saturday’s massive thumbs down.
The local election results were much more than a sign of mid-term blues and the sooner Gonzi and Co. realise the extent of public disenchantment, the better it will be for the country as a whole.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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