A chat with Malta’s new minister

“The key is creating a shift in mindset by offering alternatives that are not only effective but also preferable to using cars,” Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, and Public Works, Chris Bonett, tells The Journal

Responding to a casual “how are you?” isn’t straightforward, particularly if you have just been promoted from Parliamentary Secretary to Minister.

“It’s a question I find challenging to answer – since Saturday, it’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, and Public Works, Chris Bonett, tells The Journal. “I started the day with my usual responsibilities, focusing on European funds. Suddenly, I need to shift my mindset.”

When directly asked about his new portfolio, he described it as “exciting but difficult”. Whilst admitting that it is useless to avoid direct discussions, he acknowledged that the sector faces several difficulties.

In the context of a portfolio change, he shared insights into the process, highlighting the importance of a methodical approach. He referenced the Maltese saying “il-qattusa għaġġelija, frieħ għomja tagħmel” (literally: a cat in a hurry will give birth to blind kittens), highlighting the idea that hasty actions rarely yield positive outcomes. In positions like his, this proverb holds significant weight, cautioning against rash decisions without the necessary information, as such mistakes may be irreversible.

Challenges and solutions

When pressed on the most significant challenges in the realms he is now responsible for, he replied that, at face value, these issues are not new to him. He often heard about people’s concerns when he was Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds. He highlighted a crucial realisation that needs acknowledgment: in numerous surveys, transport consistently emerges as the top or second concern among people.

“Transportation is intricately tied to our infrastructure, and despite the static size of our country, the growing population means more challenges for our infrastructure. One issue that I find bothersome, and it resonates with the public, is the lack of coordination in roadworks. It’s frustrating to encounter construction on various roads simultaneously, creating difficulties for people trying to navigate through the affected areas,” said the Minister.

Addressing this, he believes we need to emphasise education.

“As a society, we heavily rely on cars, and I’m no exception. While cars will remain a popular mode of transport, we need to explore ways to tackle traffic and related issues. It’s not just about reducing the number of cars on the road, which is easier said than done. Convincing people to opt for alternatives requires providing viable and appealing options that enhance comfort and make practical sense. The key is creating a shift in mindset by offering alternatives that are not only effective but also preferable to using cars.”

Another issue that we bring up is the prevalent perception that public transport is exclusively used by foreigners. The Minister affirms that this sentiment extends across various sectors, including health and other domains, reflecting a cultural issue. Addressing this challenge, he acknowledges that resistance to change is embedded in human nature and that increased efforts on education will help to break down barriers and hopefully motivate the Maltese to use public transportation more.

Finding one’s feet

Following this morning’s swearing-in at the Palace, the new Ministry has started its proper organisational efforts. Today, the newly appointed Minister dedicated his time to meetings with the highest officials of prominent entities. Following our interview, he was scheduled to engage with the executive heads of Infrastructure Malta and Transport Malta. Simultaneously, he’s actively in the process of assembling his team, in view that the ministerial team is more extensive than that of a parliamentary secretary.

He has investing considerable time with the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Public Works, Omar Farrugia, whom he describes as a successful collaborator with the enthusiasm to drive change. The Minister emphasised that Farrugia’s ideas and presence reflect a level of maturity and experience beyond his years, highlighting their collaborative exchange of ideas.

“Currently, it’s a phase of receiving and validating information. This morning, while on my daily commute to work, I paid extra attention to the activities unfolding on the streets,” said the Minister candidly.

Earlier today, he communicated with the head executive of the company overseeing public transportation. It’s crucial to note that this is a privately operated service, and the Government lacks direct authority over it.

“There are pressing issues that necessitate mutual understanding. While recognising the operator’s aim to generate profit, we underline the importance of ensuring quality service, especially considering the substantial financial support provided by the Government. The satisfaction of public transport users should be a priority,” said Minister Bonett.

He added that engaging a broad spectrum of individuals in finding solutions will expedite the process and lead to effective resolutions. He said that this collaborative approach, previously successful in European funds management, will be applied here as well. The Minister highlighted that even stakeholders share a collective interest in ensuring the efficient functioning of the transportation system.

Concluding our conversation, we can see that the new Minister is still finding his feet, and this is completely understandable, since we happened to catch him on his first day on the job. Undoubtedly, he is facing a challenging situation, stepping into a role previously held by a respected colleague and friend. Navigating such transitions can be delicate, and it is crucial to understand the existing dynamics, expectations, and challenges.

Building on the existing foundations while bringing his own leadership style and ideas to the role can help create a smooth transition.

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