‘Depressed’ Borg Olivier said Mintoff was a miser

US cables from 1974 published by Wikileaks shed light on the internal revolt faced by then Opposition Leader George Borg Olivier, who is described as “ineffectual” and “depressed”.

Both party leader (George) Borg Olivierand deputy leader (Ċensu) Tabone are completely ineffective

But the cables do not reserve unflattering comments solely for Dr Borg Olivier, who makes some observations himself, including describing former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff as a “miser” and Lorry Sant a drinker.

“(Mintoff’s) a miser. He’s a miser at home and he runs the country just like he runs his home,” Dr Borg Olivier is quoted as saying during a meeting with then US Ambassador John Getz on February 1, 1974.

The comments were made during a lunch Mr Getz had with Dr Borg Olivier and then PN deputy leader Ċensu Tabone.

At the same occasion – two years before his second election defeat in 1976 – Dr Borg Olivier seemed confident his party could win if an election were held soon, despite the fact that former Nationalist MP Alfred Baldacchino had just defected to Labour.

“We lost an MP but we didn’t lose any votes,” Dr Borg Olivier had said, according to the message, which forms part of The Kissinger Cables series published by media organisation Wikileaks this week.

According to the cable, a number of subjects were discussed over lunch, including the waning influence of the Church and Mr Mintoff’s possible successors.

The Nationalists seemed sure that former minister Mr Sant would be Mr Mintoff’s choice for successor but Dr Borg Olivier pointed out that Mr Sant “seems worried” and was “beginning to have a drinking problem”.

Regarding the Church, Dr Tabone did not agree with Dr Borg Olivier that the Maltese youth were becoming increasingly anti-establishment and “turning to the left”.

However, they agreed that Archbishop Michael Gonzi was “not providing the leadership he had done in his younger days”.

“They said the Vatican wanted to remove Archbishop Gonzi shortly before the elections because it did not trust him. It turned out the pastoral letter on the elections was extremely brief and much too mild,” the cable said.

According to the comment section of the cable, Dr Tabone was “his usual self” during the meeting but Dr Borg Olivier “although always mild-mannered and soft-spoken, seemed depressed”.

Perhaps accurately, the cable attributes this sense of dejection to the activities by the PN’s “Young Turks”, a reference to the mounting internal revolt against the “ineffectual” leader.

One of the rebellious MPs who gets substantial attention is Mario Felice, described as being unusual in the PN because of his “personal relationship with Mintoff”, whom he met “quite regularly”.

“We suspect he is somewhat flattered by attention Mintoff gives him,” writes the ambassador in one cable dated May 1973, which features a “rather unhappy account of the situation within the Nationalist Party”.

“Basically, dilemma is that both party leader Borg Olivier and deputy leader Tabone are completely ineffective but younger party members feel that it would be public disaster to remove them.

“Borg Olivier’s problem is that he simply is inactive and provides no leadership.

“Tabone, on the other hand, is not very intelligent and is constantly getting in trouble by making public statements which leave him open to devastating replies by Prime Minister.”

The movement to oust Dr Borg Olivier gathered momentum in January 1974, where potential successors started to be named.

A cable from that month quotes Mr Mintoff’s former secretary, Joe Camilleri, naming the front-runners as Eddie Fenech Adami, Guido de Marco and Dr Felice.

“While we know many Nationalists MPs hold Fenech Adami in high regard, this is the first time he has been included in list of possible replacements for Borg Olivier,” the cable said about the man who eventually replaced Dr Borg Olivier in 1977.

What the Americans did not know until March was that the Nationalist MPs had signed a declaration of no confidence in Dr Borg Olivier’s leadership.

This was revealed at a public rally by Mr Baldacchino, who had defected to Labour. (See extract from The Times in 1974, left.)

Mr Baldacchino said he had attended a meeting at the office of Nationalist MP Ġużè Maria Camilleri on January 7 where 18 of the PN’s 27 MPs had signed the declaration. Three others, who could not attend, signed later.

According to the cable, Dr Fenech Adami was “appointed temporary leader” during this meeting. The cables say all Nationalist MPs then met at the home of Dr de Marco on January 12 and Dr Borg Olivier was confronted with the declaration.

“Borg Olivier’s initial reaction was tearful Caesarean reproach to each one of the 20, ‘and you, too, would desert me’ (addressing Michael Refalo).”

Dr Borg Olivier said that to oust him, a party congress must be held and a vote taken and only the leader could call such a meeting.

Dr Felice told the Americans Mr Baldacchino’s account was “essentially correct”, though he vigorously denied a claim two other MPs were prepared to follow in his footsteps.

‘Miracle’ that Nazzjon got published

The Nationalist Party is struggling to balance its books, but it may take comfort in the fact that its financial situation was not too different back in 1974.

According to one of the Wikileaks cables published this week, Nationalist deputy leader Ċensu Tabone said it was a “miracle” that the party’s daily newspaper In-Nazzjon Tagħna was published considering the “lack of funds”.

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