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Muscat’s 14-minister Cabinet is sworn in

Fourteen ministers were appointed to Cabinet by President George Abela yesterday during a swearing-in ceremony at The Palace in Valletta.

Not that the Cabinet will be bereft of familiar political faces

They will be assisted by eight parliamentary secretaries, together forming Malta’s largest-ever executive as well as one of its freshest-faced ones.

Eight of those nominated are completely new to national politics, having been elected as MPs for the first time during last Saturday’s election.

The newcomers range from lawyer Manuel Mallia – who now heads a mega-ministry comprising home affairs, national security, justice and broadcasting – to 27-year-old Dingli mayor Ian Borg, charged with overseeing EU funds and the 2017 EU Presidency preparations as a parliamentary secretary.

Not that the Cabinet will be bereft of familiar political faces. Three men – George Vella, Evarist Bartolo and Karmenu Vella – will pick up where they left off in 1998, heading the Foreign Affairs, Education and Tourism ministries respectively. Mr Bartolo has also had employment added to his portfolio and will be helped by Stefan Buontempo, made parliamentary secretary for research, innovation, youth and sport.

There was also room for three other former Labour ministers. Leo Brincat was made Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, while Joe Mizzi was handed the reins to the Transport and Infrastructure ministry.

Agriculture, fisheries and animal rights have been handed to parliamentary secretary Roderick Galdes, who will work out of Mr Brincat’s ministry.

One-time health minister Michael Farrugia has now been charged, as parliamentary secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister, with overseeing both planning and the 25 per cent cut in bureaucracy the Labour Party has promised.

His direct boss, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, will coordinate strategic policy and the Government’s priorities, among other responsibilities that include public administration, internal audit and investigations, information and lands.

Anton Refalo was made Gozo minister, after his previous stint as parliamentary secretary for Malta’s sister island during the late 90s Labour administration.

Aside from ensuring the PL’s electoral manifesto is implemented, deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech will coordinate European relations as EU Affairs minister.

Konrad Mizzi, who burst onto the political scene as the driving force behind the PL’s energy proposals, is now Energy and Water Conservation minister, with a remit that includes Enemalta, Water Services Corporation and the Malta Resources Authority.

Finance and Economic Affairs have been split into two separate ministries, with economist Edward Scicluna heading the first and lawyer Chris Cardona the second.

While Prof. Scicluna’s ministry will oversee taxes, budgets, the treasury and financial regulation, Dr Cardona – aided by parliamentary secretary Edward Zammit Lewis – will take charge of economic policy, small business, external trade, industry and maritime affairs.

Two of the 22 appointed yesterday are women, and both will serve as ministers. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca is now Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity, where she will be helped by ophthalmologist Franco Mercieca, who was made parliamentary secretary for disability rights and active ageing.

Helena Dalli will lead the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties. Her remit ranges from data protection to NGOs and industrial relations.

Family doctor and former Żebbuġ mayor Godfrey Farrugia will serve as Health Minister, and will also oversee occupational health and safety.

Although the swearing-in ceremony began a little after 6pm, rumours as to who would be appointed to which portfolio had been swirling around for most of the day.

Many of those rumours were confirmed when the appointments were announced, although at least one MP, Jose Herrera, appeared less than happy with his new role.

Dr Herrera, who served in Opposition as justice spokesman but who will now be Culture and Local Councils parliamentary secretary, noticeably failed to shake Dr Muscat’s hand after being appointed.

Among the more noteworthy portfolio shuffles is the subsuming of the planning authority under the Prime Minister’s control and the re-integration of justice and home affairs functions, just one year after the two were separated by former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

Dr Mallia’s ministerial load, which also includes citizenship and visa issues (previously a foreign affairs matter), will be lightened by Owen Bonnici, who was appointed parliamentary secretary for justice.

Having each taken their oath of office and signed the necessary paperwork – though Mrs Coleiro Preca couldn’t resist a chuckle when her pen ran out of ink – the newly-appointed ministerial heads walked to Castille.

There, they waited patiently as camera shutters clicked and whirred, before press members were asked to leave and the new appointees got down to business.

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