New Prime Minister Robert Abela has not given any indication on whether he will remove Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and Attorney General Peter Grech from their posts.
He did however note that the Police Commissioner must use all resources available and work with professionalism and diligence to make sure that no stone is left unturned in any investigation.
Asked by The Malta Independent whether, having taken the important decision to appoint his Cabinet, he would now move on to other important decisions such as removing the Police Commissioner and Attorney General from their roles, Abela said that he would announce other decisions “at the opportune moment”, but that what is sure is that work on good governance will continue.
When asked about information which emerged in court on Wednesday wherein it was said that the Malta Police Force had not taken up the offer of help from the FBI to find Keith Schembri’s lost mobile phone and whether he would be putting pressure for this mobile phone to be found however, Abela noted that the Police Commissioner – in general – must do his job in the most professional and diligent manner so that this case, and any other case, is solved.
“I am not informed about the details of the investigation – it is not my job – but I do make an appeal for investigations to be done with haste”, Abela said after noting that in principle he felt that investigating should always be left to the Police Commissioner and that it was not the place of the Prime Minister to intervene.
In the run-up to the Labour Party leadership election, Abela had said that he would be removing Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar from his role, but has thus far not given an indication as to when he would do so.
Asked by this newsroom whether the changes made to the Home Affairs Ministry and the Justice Ministry – which will now be led by Byron Camilleri and Edward Zammit Lewis respectively – were because he was not satisfied with the rule of law in the country in the past years, Abela said that he had felt that in the circumstances of the moment there was the need for changes to be made, while noting that the previous occupants of those two ministries had been given new ministries meaning that he still did have faith in them
“I believe that change is always good, and I also believe that we need to continue strengthening the sector and it’s good to change things with some new faces”, he said.
Abela was speaking after addressing a press conference which followed the swearing in of his new Cabinet, which was appointed on Wednesday, where he said that the Cabinet gives out a clear signal that the government is looking beyond the end of this legislature.
Speaking at the President’s Palace, he said that the Cabinet would prepare for future challenges. “The country will keep moving forward in the direction of stability and peace of mind.”
He spoke about recent positive economic reports, saying that he had also chosen his Cabinet within this context. “I am determined to not only reach these forecasts but also exceed them.”
He said he had made changes in some sectors so that greater emphasis could be placed on particular aspects. “We are increasing the emphasis on social housing, consumer affairs, our heritage and animal rights.”
He said great importance is being given to good governance and observance of the law. “I believe in discipline.”
The environment and planning have also been brought together, to create the necessary balance.
“This is a cabinet with new blood, new energy,” he said, also noting that many of its members were young. The fact that there are three female Labour MPs who are members of Cabinet shows that the government is placing equality reforms high on its agenda, he said.
In other questions from journalists, Abela was asked how he seeks to address the crisis that led to the resignation of Joseph Muscat, but neglected to call the situation a crisis, saying that they were “difficulties which every government passes through”. He said that mistakes had happened and that the mistakes which did happen will not be repeated, and said that he believes very much in discipline and that the country can move forward to continue improving people’s lives while also emphasising on good governance and strong economic growth.
Also asked by this newsroom whether he would seek to limit the number of persons or positions of trust which members of Cabinet could appoint, Abela said that it wasn’t necessarily a question of limiting the number but of not having more people than necessary employed.
He said that the notion of a position of trust is a “misnomer” and has existed forever in Malta’s laws as a definite contract for a specific period of time. He said that the important thing is that the headcount is not anymore than is actually needed.
Pushed on whether he would be doing something to ensure that the headcount is indeed not more than should be necessary, he assured that he would make sure that there aren’t more people than necessary but noted that one cannot not employ people who are needed just to keep the number down.
He said that there are a number of priorities one must keep in mind in these first few weeks of government, mentioning the environment as one key area where a renewed impetus must be placed, along with the economic sectors of the country as well.
Asked for the reason as to why Chris Cardona had not been given a role in the Cabinet, Abela did not answer, stating that he was taking a decision based on his responsibilities in the constitution and would like to keep the reasons for his decisions to himself.
While Abela had said during his campaign that he was basing himself on continuity, the changes in the Cabinet have meant that only six ministers or parliamentary secretaries have retained the roles and portfolios they had under Abela’s predecessor Joseph Muscat. Asked about this, Abela said that he had taken these decisions according to what he felt was in the best interest for the country.
Photos: Alenka Falzon