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08-Mr Dom Mintoff

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1916 – 2012

PRIME MINISTER OF MALTA  (1955 – 1958, 1971 – 1984)

 

The Hon. Dom Mintoff, B.Sc, B.E. & A., M.A. (Oxon), A. & C.E., M.P., son of Lawrence and Concetta nee Farrugia, was born in Cospicua on August 6, 1916.

He attended the Government Elementary School and the Seminary, from which he proceeded to the Lyceum and the University of Malta. In 1937 he graduated B.Sc and two years later, in 1939, B.E. & A. & C.E. Mr. Mintoff was awarded a Government travelling Scholarship and Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 1939 where he obtained his M.A. in Engineering Science.

During the years 1941 – 43, Mr. Mintoff worked as Civil Engineer in UK, and as architect in Malta from 1943 onwards. During 1936 – 37 he was General Secretary of the Malta Labour Party. In 1945, he was elected member of the Council of Government and Executive Council.   Mr. Mintoff formed part of labour delegations to UK in 1945, 1947, 1948 and 1949. He was elected in the General Elections in the interests of the Malta Labour Party in 1947 and was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Works and Reconstruction during 1947-49. He resigned in 1949.

Mr. Mintoff was elected leader of the Malta Labour Party in 1949. He was Prime Minister during the period 1955-58. He resigned office in 1958 to lead the Maltese Liberation Movement. Mr. Mintoff was again elected in the General Elections in 1962 and 1966. He served as Leader of the Opposition during 1962-71.

Mr. Mintoff became Prime Minister for a second term in June 1971 and yet again following the General Elections in September, 1976 and in December, 1981. In September 1983, he was assigned also the office of Minister of the Interior.

Mr. Mintoff’s primary aim has always been that of securing peace and stability in Europe and theMediterranean . To this end, on assuming office in 1971, Mr. Mintoff immediately asked for negotiations with the British Government for the military base in Malta to be dismantled. Final agreement was reached following hard negotiations between September 1971 and March 1972 on a 7-year defence base agreement with Britain and NATO on condition that this would in no way be  used against Arab states.

Mr. Mintoff negotiated a treaty of friendship and close economic cooperation with Prime Minister Chou en Lai in China, April 1972; steered Malta in the Non-Aligned Movement, 1973; Abolished British Monarchy and founded a democratic Republic within the Commonwealth based on work and respect for fundamental rights and freedom of the individual, December 1974; he closed down the British base and established Malta’s new status of non-aligned neutrality on 31 March 1979.

Various nations have recognised Mr. Mintoff’s contribution in this respect. In 1971 he was awarded the Order of the Republic by Libya and in 1973 Tunisia decorated him with the Grand Cordon De l’Ordre de la Republique. In 1976 he was awarded the doctorate ‘Onoris Causa’ by the University of Political Studies  Ponterios of Greece, and Morocco granted him the Order of the Gran Cordon of Oissam Alaouite in 1978.

Malta’s longest serving politician, Mintoff served in the House of Representatives between 1947 and 1998 and remained at the heart of Maltese politics right up to 2003, when he campaigned against Malta joining the European Union.

A socialist throughout his life, Il-Perit will be remembered most for social reforms and the welfare state he engineered as Prime Minister between 1955-58 and between 1971 and 1984.

He will also be remembered as the man who undermined Paul Boffa’s government in the late 1940s and Alfred Sant’s government a generation later.

Mintoff’s first government in 1955 also ended in resignation and turmoil in 1958 after the failure of his campaign for integration with Britain .

He then went in the opposite direction, pushing for independence, only to be beaten to it by George Borg Olivier.

Mintoff, however, was to go a step further, making Malta a Republic in 1974 and then overseeing the closure of the British military base on March 31, 1979, clearly the most important day of his political life.

Educated in Britain and married to a Briton, Mintoff looked East, rather than West during his years at the helm of the Maltese government.

Within months of taking office in 1971, tough negotiations with Britain’s Lord Carrington forged a new defence and financial agreement leading to the end of 200 years of British military presence in 1979.

And within hours of achieving that agreement, he surprised the Western democracies by flying off to Communist China to establish a lasting friendship which included generous assistance for infrastructural projects, notably the Red China dock and the Freeport.

But despite shifting to the East and labelling Western Europe as the Europe of Cain, Mintoff’s policies remained something of a mystery – the then USSR was allowed to open an embassy here only in the 1980s. At the same time Mintoff insisted that Malta’s future lay in neutrality and non-alignment, which he was to eventually to hammer into the constitution in 1987 in return for the most elementary of democratic safeguards – majority rule.

Mintoff also forged a close friendship with Muammar Gaddafi, who bankrolled him in the early months of his 1971 government as funds ran dry and Britain threatened to pull out its forces from Malta. The friendship with Gaddafi was to endure, despite a dispute over oil exploration rights which saw Mintoff calling Libyan action to stop Maltese exploration as the ‘actions of the worst enemy’.

When not fighting the British, Mintoff was, most of the time, fighting the Church. Matters came to a head in the 1960s, probably costing the Labour Party the two elections held in that decade. Peace was eventually reached, but Mintoff continued to erode the privileges and influence of the Church – such as by introducing civil marriage.

The son of a cook of the British Royal Navy, Mintoff studied at Oxford during the war years and on his return to Malta had a mercurial rise in the Labour Party. He was appointed to the Council of Government in 1945 and was elected for the first time in the in 1947 general election, which returned a Labour government.

Mintoff was responsible for post-war reconstruction.

He was Minister for Reconstruction under Prime Minister Paul Boffa and became party deputy leader. Disagreement with what he viewed as Boffa’s weak stance in Malta’s demands for more generous post-war assistance eventually saw him oust and replace Boffa at the party helm in 1949. The Labour Party split and Boffa set up the Malta Workers’ Party. Boffa was eventually to ally himself with George Borg Olivier for a succession of weak Nationalist governments.

Mintoff became prime minister – Malta’s youngest so far – in 1955. His plan for integration with Britain failed however – not least because of opposition from the Church. A Break With Britain resolution was adopted and social unrest led to the suspension of the constitution in 1958 after Mintoff resigned. Relations with the Church worsened and Archbishop Gonzi declared before the 1962 election that anyone voting for Labour would be committing a sin.

Back in power in 1971, Il-Perit’s grip on the government was absolute – he was also foreign minister and home affairs minister for most of his years as prime minister. The hallmark of his administration were a raft of social benefits -including better pensions, children’s allowance and the minimum wage – aimed at raising the living standards of the lower strata of society.

The economy grew rapidly but eventually became a command economy with imports, in particular, closely controlled by the government which adopted a policy of bulk buying and shunned imports from countries with which Malta had an unfavourable trade balance. Various sectors, such as the provision of fuel, broadcasting and the banks, were brought under government control. Private hospitals closed their doors, though not without a fight. The Mintoff government however, set up companies such as Air Malta and Sea Malta, which were key for economic development.

There were various outbreaks of violence, notably during a long running strike by doctors. On October 15, 1979 an angry party supporter managed to make his way almost to Mintoff’s office at the Auberge de Castille. A shot was fired. Mintoff was never in danger, but violence followed. The offices of The Times were torched and the residence of Opposition leader Eddie Fenech Adami was ransacked, with his wife beaten up. Mintoff said he was sorry, but no one was ever arraigned.

Matters were to sink lower in 1981 when Labour won a majority of seats in the House while the Nationalist Party won a majority of votes. Mintoff still formed a government, despite indicating later that he only did so because of pressure from his party.

On 22nd December 1984, Mr.Mintoff voluntarily left office to enable his successor to take over. On 18th January 1985 he was appointed special advisor to the new Prime Minister Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici. He continued to pull the strings until Labour lost the 1987 election.

Mifsud Bonnici was the most prominent of Mintoff’s former political adversaries to become his friends – he had been very active in the Church’s fight in the 1960s against Labour, as was Toni Pellegrini, who Mintoff was to make head of Xandir Malta.

Alfred Sant, elected Labour leader after after the 1992 elections, sought to move the party away from the Mintoff legacy but was stopped short by Mintoff himself when he voted against Sant’s government in 1998, bringing it down. It was only after Joseph Muscat was elected to the helm of the Labour Party that the party reopened itself to Dom Minoff and Muscat himself welcomed Mintoff to the new Labour HQ in Hamrun – from which Mintoff had kept away in the Sant years.

Throughout his years as party leader Mintoff was revered by his supporters – one only needs to see how many Labour supporters, now in middle age – are called Dominic. A man who hardly ever held press conferences, never held consultation meetings and hardly allowed anyone a glimpse into his private life, Mintoff used to captivate Labourites with his fiery, sometime vulgar, sometimes humorous and always brilliant oratory.

Right until old age he used to go for a swim at Delimara all year round, come rain or shine. He also used to enjoy horse riding and bowls.

Many will remember what was at the heart of his beliefs and at the end of all his speeches – Malta l-ewwel u qabel kollox.

Mr.Mintoff has contributed several articles to scientific, literary and artistic publications.

He married the late Moyra de Vere Bentick. They had two daughters, Ann and Yana.

Mr. Mintoff’s pastimes were horse-riding, swimming, water-skiing and ‘Boċċi’.

Mr Dom Mintoff passed away aged 96 on Monday 20th August 2012 at his residence in Tarxien shortly after 8 p.m., surrounded by family.

_____________________

The Mintoff years

From Cospicua to Helsinki

1916: Born in Cospicua
1935: Appointed Labour general secretary
1937: Graduates from the University of Malta
1939: Qualifies as an architect
1939: Awarded a Rhodes scholarship
1945: Elected to Parliament
1947: Appointed deputy prime minister and Works Minister; marries Moira Bentinck and has two daughters
1949: Appointed Labour leader
1955: Becomes Prime Minister; proposes integration with the UK
1958: His government resigns in protest over the way the British government was treating Malta, an action followed by a general strike and riots
1958: Travels to London to discuss introduction of self-government
1960: The Church imposes religious sanctions against Mr Mintoff and his colleagues
1962: His party proposes equal and sovereign rights in his electoral manifesto but still loses the election
1966: With the Church vociferously opposed against Mintoff, Labour again loses the general election
1972: Establishes diplomatic relations with China; signs defence agreement with the UK
1971: Becomes Prime Minister; removes Maurice Dorman from the post of Governor General
1973: Calls the Libyans ‘blood brothers’ as he starts a close relationship, albeit at time jittery, with Muammar Gaddafi
1973: Announces the takeover of the National Bank’s assets; Mintoff’s government approves setting up of Air Malta
1974: Declares Malta a republic
1975: At the Helsinki summit, Mr Mintoff stalls proceedings by insisting on inserting a clause about peace in the Mediterranean, frustrating world leaders
1976: Wins the general election; violent elements start creeping into the party
1979: Declares Freedom Day as the British forces agreement comes to an end; a man charges into Castille allegedly heading for Mr Mintoff, a prelude to what will become known as Black Monday, with Socialist supporters running amok
1980: Negotiates a protocol neutrality agreement with Italy
1981: Mr Mintoff’s party gets a minority of votes but can still govern because of the Constitution as the Nationalists accuse him of tailoring the districts to suit Labour. It is the precursor to five years of political unrest
1984: Mr Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister, handing over the baton to Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici
1985: Negotiates an agreement with the opposition giving the party with the majority of votes the right to govern
1998: He votes against Alfred Sant’s government on the Cottonera project motion, prompting an early election
2002: Sets up Front Maltin Inqumu, an anti-EU membership lobby group
2009: For the first time, he sets foot inside Labour’s Ħamrun headquarters

 

CABINET   1955 – 1958

Minister Ministry
Dom Mintoff Head of Ministry & Finance
Guze’ Ellul Mercer Public Works & Reconstruction
Dr Guze’ Cassar Justice
Dr Albert V Hyzler Health & Social Services
Agatha Barbara Education
John J Cole Agriculture & Fisheries
Emmanuel Tabone Emigration & Labour
Cikku Bonaci Industry & Commerce

Note: In December 1955 the Ministry of Social Services was added to the portfolio of Emmanuel Tabone. 

On 6th April 1956 Cikku Bonaci resigned due to health reasons and he was replaced by Not Guze’ Abela.

 

CABINET  1971 – 1976

Minister Ministry
Dom Mintoff Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs & Commonwealth
Dr Joseph Abela Finance & Customs
Agatha Barbara Education & Culture
Dr J Micallef Stafrace Agriculture & Fisheries, Commerce & Industry, Tourism
Dr Anton Buttigieg Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
Dr Guze’ Cassar Labour & Employment, Social Security
Dr Daniel Piscopo Health
Lorry Sant Public Works
Dr Albert V Hyzler Economic Planning
Wistin Abela Junior Minster Finance
Dr Patrick Holland Junior Minister OPM
Paul Xuereb Junior Minister OPM
Freddie Micallef Junior Minister Industry & Agriculture

Note: When Dr Joseph Micallef Stafrace resigned in October 1971, Paul Xuereb was appointed Minister in his stead.  In a cabinet reshuffle later on Dr A.V. Hyzler was appointed Minster for Health, Dr D Piscopo became Minister for Posts & Electricity, Dr Guze’ Cassar bacame Minister for Education and Agatha Barabara appointed Minister  for Labour, Employment & Social Security.

 

CABINET  1976 – 1981

 

Minister Ministry
Dom Mintoff Prime Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Home Affairs
Dr Joseph Abela Finance, Customs & Investments
Dr Guze’ Cassar Education
Dr Patrick Holland Commerce
Dr Anton Buttigieg Justice, Parliamentary Affairs, Land & Housing
Agatha Barbara Labour & Employment, Social Security, Culture
Dr Vincent Moran Health
Lorry Sant Public Works & Sports
Wistin Abela Economic Development, Energy, Ports & Telecommunications
Danny Cremona Industry, Agriculture & Fisheries
Freddie Micallef Parastatal Industry
Dr Daniel Piscopo Tourism

Note: Dr Anton Buttigieg resigned from Parliament to be appointed President of the Republic on 27th December 1976.  Dr Guze’ Cassar was appointed Minister for Justice, Parliamentary Affairs, Land & Housing.  Dr Philip Muscat was appointed Minster for Education. 

When Dr Daniel Piscopo resigned from Minister in December 1978, Danny Cremona was appointed Minster for Tourism, Freddie Micallef was appointed Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries and Dr Patrick Holland became Minister for Industry & Commerce.

When Dr Joseph Abela resigned in June 1979 his Ministry was passed on to Dr Guze’ Cassar and Dr Joseph Brincat was appointed Minister for Justice.

 

CABINET  1981 – September 1983

 

Minister Ministry
Dom Mintoff Prime Minister
Lino Spiteri Finance
Dr Philip Muscat Education
Joseph Grima Industry
Dr Guze’ Cassar Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
Danny Cremona Labour & Employment, Social Services
Dr Vincent Moran Health & Environment
Lorry Sant Home Affairs & Sports
Wistin Abela Economic Development
Freddie Micallef Agriculture & Fisheries
Dr Patrick Holland Parastatal Investments
Reno Calleja Tourism
Karmenu Vella Public Works
Dr Alex Sciberras Trigona Foreign Affairs & Culture

Note:  In 1983 Dr Patrick Holland resigned from Minister due to health reasons.  Two new Ministers were appointed, namely Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici as Minister for Labour and Social Welfare instead of Danny Cremona who died and Joe Debono Grech who was appointed Minister for Parastatal Investments.

CABINET  September 1983 – December 1984

 

Minister Ministry
Dom Mintoff Prime Minister & Home Affairs
Wistin Abela Finance, Economic Development, Customs & Ports
Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici Education & Communications
Karmenu Vella Industry
Dr Guze’ Cassar Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
Freddie Micallef Labour & Employment, Social Services
Dr Vincent Moran Health & Environment
Lorry Sant Public Works & Sports
Joe Debono Grech Agriculture & Fisheries
Dr Philip Muscat Parastatal Investments
Joseph Grima Tourism
Lino Spiteri Economic Planning & Commerce
Dr Alex Sciberras Trigona Foreign Affairs & Culture

Note:  On 22nd December 1984 Dom Mintoff resigned from Prime Minister and passed on the premiership to Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici

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