Interview: Claudio Grech – Doing my part for the party
Claudio Grech is a name synonymous with the digital agenda in Malta and the clinical implementation of Minister Austin Gatt’s political programme between 1999 and 2008. Despite being in charge of very complex (and many times controversial) measures, Gatt’s performance with him in his team was always considered to be effective and result-oriented. Known to be a strategic mastermind, working long hours and possessing an eye for minute detail, many were surprised at his acceptance to contest the general elections. Raised in Valletta and lived for many years in Hamrun, he is contesting on his home-ground first district.
Despite being still 38, from a professional track record perspective, Grech made a veritable success out of his career. He led the ICT revolution in the country and drove a radical transformation in the delivery of public services, taking Malta to the top spot in the EU in e-Government. He was one of the most effective and trusted executives of the last three Nationalist Governments. After his short stint at SmartCity, in 2010, he started up his own business, specialising in change and project management. So why get back in politics at this stage, particularly when all odds are against the PN?
Admitting it was a tough decision for him and his family he explains that the PN did a lot of good for this country and it now asked for his contribution to be part of a team which will strive to continue bringing about positive change and enhance itself to align better with the aspirations of people. In a pragmatic tone he says ”I was born, bred and I shall die Nationalist but don’t get me wrong: I am not indispensable to the PN - I was asked to do my part and I am willing to do it.”
He speaks about how he learnt his lessons in life, in both achievements and mistakes, which now lead him to this juncture. He boils down the key to his success to a single word ‘serenity’ as he puts it. “When I made a mistake, despite having good intentions, serenity meant that I was capable of admitting it and move on. When others were unjust to me, to suit their own purpose, serenity meant that I can forgive and equally move on. This approach in life and the ultimate recognition that, although we strive for excellence, we are far from perfect is what gives me endless energy, passion and commitment in whatever I do in life.”
Our discussion drifts to campaign styles and the expectations of an increasingly dirty campaign. Does he concur to negative campaigning? I feel that negative campaigning should be very limited and in any case policy-oriented and never personal on individual politicians or the party leaders. I think that, deep down, every person who decides to get into politics does so to do good and therefore we should compete on the grounds of our ideas, vision, competence and ability to deliver and not scoring cheap political points. Negativity (on either side) will simply create more negativity as a reaction. I firmly believe that in today’s world, people will vote for positive ideas not cheap mud-slinging or scaremongering.
I point out to him that Labour were never kind to him and, over the years, they attacked him on numerous instances. I ask if he considers this to be unjust and if this changes his views on negative campaigning. Whilst acknowledging that personal attacks are unpleasant he still sticks to his position that negative campaigning does not work. “I feel that Labour attack me simply because I am on the other side of the fence and hence it is politically convenient for them. Unjust as I may feel it is, obviously this is politics and when I accepted to contest the election I was completely cognisant that they would do this. Many people approach you with personal stories about prominent political figures – the truth is that most of these stories tend to arise out of personal spite or business interests and many consider politicians to be the right medium to sling this mud. I refuse to entertain this approach and I firmly believe that the PN will do the same throughout the elections.”
At this point, I remind him that the PN tends to demonise Labour leaders, including Joseph Muscat. So does he disagree with his own Party’s approach? “Given the presidential-style of campaigning, traditionally both parties tend to personify their negative campaigns on the opposing party leaders. Irrespective of who makes them, I still disagree with demonization of politicians. It simply devalues the substance of what all politicians stand for.” I insist and ask what does he personally think of Joseph Muscat?
Contrary to the lingo we are used to hear from a party camp he somewhat surprises me with his reply “I think that, like all well-meaning politicians, Muscat entered politics to positively contribute to our country. However, politically, whenever we got a policy hint from him, this tended to be generally populist in the first place and somewhat confusing in the second, evidently not carefully thought-out by his team.”
I insist that the PN also engaged negatively on its own people and didn’t mince words in regard of the rebel MPs. Even though he was a primary target of one of them, he refuses to berate them “I believe this was an unfortunate period for the PN – it hurt to see the Party suffering in this way and hopefully time will heal the bruises.” I retort that the position taken by the Executive wasn’t meant to heal anything really…“The position is what it is and I would want to believe that each individual member who upholds the values of the PN took that decision with a very heavy heart and certainly would have preferred that things did not precipitate in the way they did. I think everyone in the PN would have wished that we approach the next challenging elections as one strong united force despite the internal divergences.”
But don’t you think that the PN is becoming an oppressor of internal divergences? “I think that today everyone realises that the time for dogmas is over. Political parties the world over are embracing this fact and those who resist it will rapidly drive themselves into oblivion. This is a reality check which whoever is in politics has to learn to live with. I hope that all this will serve a lesson for all of us in the Party to establish more effective structures within which the inevitably divergent views need to be debated without ending up being fatal. I ask him to clarify what he means with ‘inevitably divergent views’…”it’s no secret that the PN brings together a strong conservative base and a smaller liberal cohort. If we want the PN to grow stronger and remain popular we need to acknowledge and manage the co-existence of these two policy agendas. “
So will he push the conservative or Catholic agenda if elected? “I believe that the Church has a key role in our society even more in the challenging times we are living in today. Whilst Church and State should never be one, I feel that the teachings of the Church remain a supreme guiding light for well-meaning politicians who intend to contribute to the well-being of our society. After all, our religion is enshrined in our Constitution.” Asked to be less abstract on what he means he refers to the efforts in fighting substance abuse amongst youngsters. “With limited resources Caritas has done and is doing miracles in this area. Imagine if we engage the Church and invest further in Caritas to enable it to step-up its efforts in curbing the demand-side of drugs, particularly the problem drugs?”
Grech is also synonymous with the electoral counting process. In the recent general elections and referenda, he has led the sampling process for the PN. Will he be doing it this time round or will he focus on his own vote counting since he is now a candidate? “The Party asked me to be part of the sampling team and I shall be doing that. The earliest possible determination of the people’s decision is a very important task which both parties’ sampling teams have a huge responsibility for, since clarity on the result will ensure a smooth and calm electoral outcome, avoiding unnecessary lingering and tension. That will be everyone’s priority at that particular point in time. After all, my personal result can wait.”