05 October 2005


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Gonzi at finance: should he stay or should he go?

James Debono

Although Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi emerges as the most trusted political leader in a survey conducted by sister newspaper MaltaToday, as minister for finance he is judged the second least popular minister.
The survey published last Sunday revealed how the general public rate the ministers’ performance.
Gonzi’s dismal rating as finance minister raises the question whether it is time for the prime minister to relieve himself from the finance portfolio and promoting parliamentary secretary Tonio Fenech in his stead.
While former finance minister Lino Spiteri thinks that the time for this hand over is approaching, economist and GRTU Director General Vince Farrugia augurs that the Prime Minister would hold on to his post till his work is accomplished.
In the first “Trust Barometer” conducted by MaltaToday, 40 per cent of respondents preferred Gonzi to Opposition leader Alfred Sant and Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Harry Vassallo. Only 25 per cent expressed their trust in Alfred Sant while a surprising 9.2 per cent expressed their trust in Harry Vassallo.
But despite the high level of trust Gonzi enjoys as a political leader, he scores dismally as finance minister. Only 39 per cent of respondents approve his performance as finance minister, rating him the second least popular minister after Austin Gatt.
On the other hand, Dolores Cristina emerged as the most popular minister with an approval rating of more than 64 per cent.
The PM’s low approval rate could also be an indication that he has not managed to convince the electorate that the economy is back on track.
Gonzi could listen to this message by absolving himself from the burden of the finance portfolio.
Lino Spiteri thinks that the time may not be far off when finance is hived off from the prime minister’s extensive direct responsibility.
But he also understands Gonzi’s motivation in sticking to his ministerial role.
“He wished to give the financial portfolio higher authority than it will have if it were held by someone who, irrespective of his abilities, would be junior to the rest of the cabinet in terms of seniority.”
According to Spiteri, Lawrence Gonzi’s low rating as finance minister is not due to lack of trust.
“I think it’s mostly a question of visibility and awareness, rather than trust,” contends Spiteri.
He also points out that the visible man at finance is Tonio Fenech.
He suggests that it would make more sense to sound public opinion on Tonio Fenech.
Vince Farrugia, Director-General of the Chamber for SMEs-GRTU, concurs that the most visible man at finance is Fenech.
But he does not consider Gonzi’s 39 per cent rating a negative one.
“Ministers responsible for Finance are never very popular at times of austerity,” contends Farrugia.
Farrugia contends the time has not yet arrived for Gonzi to relieve himself of the finance ministry.
“At present the finance ministry still needs a heavy weight and as Prime Minister, Gonzi is a double heavy weight.”
Farrugia lauds Tonio Fenech for making rapid progress in his role as parliamentary secretary but he insists that at this stage it would be unfair to burden him with the responsibility of the finance ministry.
“It was Gonzi who started the race to address the country’s financial problems, it only makes sense that he completes the final part of the race too.”
Farrugia insists that the challenge facing the Prime Minister is that of reducing the deficit without burdening the economy.
According to Farrugia this aim can only be accomplished by injecting new confidence through decreasing the fiscal burden and through the privatisation of state owned assets.

jdebono@mediatoday.com.mt



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