For the last year or so, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has had an unforgettable year. Nothing has been going right for GonziPN, be it in Parliament, in his own party or in government circles. Lawrence Gonzi cannot blame all his ills and woes on himself, some have been created by others but mostly through the general mismanagement of party and country, under his watch.
Problems for the Gonzi government started even earlier than last year. GonziPN’s biggest blunder was the €500 per week increase to himself and to government ministers. To make matters worse, his government ‘hid’ this increase from Parliamentarians, even from his own parliamentary group. He was criticised by the opposition and also from within.
The BWSC scandal escalated when it was found to be lacking in transparency by almost everybody, including the Auditor General. The additional expense that Malta will have to pay to convert the power station extension to a gas fired one could have been avoided, had Gonzi and Austin Gatt been less arrogant and heeded the advice and warnings of the opposition.
Austin Gatt was also criticised for the way that the ARRIVA introduction was mishandled. Once again, the arrogance of the Minister and his core group, especially one who is a new candidate with the PN, did not take into consideration the needs of the people. Gonzi transferred the blame onto himself by citing collective responsibility and was only saved by the Speaker’s casting vote in a vote of no confidence in the same Minister.
The New Parliament scandal cannot be attributed to anyone else, except maybe Austin Gatt again. The Prime Minister had tried to hide behind the promise to rebuild the Opera House as the main reason for the project. This backfired, since one of Renzo Piano’s architect made it clear that the brief given to the company of architects was specifically for the building of a new parliament. It is most unjust on the country as a whole that the people are made to pay for Gonzi’s personal whim. It is also very unfair that a foreign architect was given millions of euro on a direct contract. The financing of this project is also questionable. The creation of an SPV to hide the increase in government debt is just that. The government (read the taxpayer) is still liable for the cost of the project.
GonziPN’s troubles with his own group were evident in the St. John’s Co-Cathedral project, which the government had to withdraw for lack of support from within his parliamentary group.
Another decision that can be regarded as disgraceful is Dr. Gonzi’s handling of the divorce issue. He first had to concede to Austin Gatt’s threat that unless the PN takes a stand against the introduction of divorce, Austin Gatt would resign. After calling a referendum and after a clear decision by the people that government should introduce divorce laws, Gonzi had the cheek to vote against the majority’s will. Who else is to blame for the prime minister’s vote in parliament?
The dissent within his own party was mounting. He mishandled the Franco Debono crisis by creating an issue that left many questions unanswered. His decision to halt parliamentary votes pending the result of his one horse race left many PN voters in disbelief. His so-called victory did not solve the problems in his party nor did it pacify parliamentary dissent. In fact, soon after the vote of no confidence in one of his ministers was carried with the backing of a Nationalist MP. Franco Debono had proposed a number of reforms, most of which have since been introduced. This was clearly a sign that the GonziPN ministry was responsible and guilt of inaction. Although Gonzi did not assume collective responsibility in this instance, it was obvious to the people that the government had failed in its mission.
The Cachia Caruana issue is still fresh in everyone’s mind. RCC was found, by a majority of members of the highest institution in the country, to have acted behind parliament’s back. By association, Gonzi, who defended RCC to the very end, should have read the writing on the wall. If Cachia Caruana was deemed to have had to tender his resignation, then Prime Minister Gonzi should have done the same.
World Recession is no fault of the Prime Minister. Having completely disregarded the warnings, having increased our national debt to record levels and having increased our deficit to well above that his government has forecast, is GonziPN’s fault. So is the fact that the government has not been capable of curbing inflation. Gonzi’s government can also be blamed for the hefty increases in the price of fuels, LPG gas and utility bills. He is not responsible for the cost of crude oil, but he is definitely responsible for the mechanism with which these rates are calculated locally.
Dr. Gonzi has led the country from one problem to another. His handling of the dissent within his own party has left many people bewildered, including many staunch Nationalists. The people know that the manoeuvres, mock trials and decisions that will only apply at the end of the legislature are nothing but an obsession to cling to power at all costs. He knows that he has lost the majority in Parliament and out of it. He must stop treating Parliament as if it were an extension of his party. Many members of his party are not happy at the way Gonzi has dealt with the problems and at the way he is allowing the use of violent elements and foul-mouthed people.
This internal strife has split the party and the country. It is the Prime Minister’s fault that he has not managed to govern in a way that satisfies his own parliamentary group. He has disregarded the people for so long, that it seems he no longer knows the problems that his government is creating by not indicating a clear solution to his own problems. Lawrence Gonzi keeps hoping that these woes will go away, but the only possible redeeming factor would be an honourable way out for the good of the country and for ending the instability that he has created.