No-confidence motion against Mugliett
The opposition yesterday gave notice of a no-confidence motion in Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett, with Alfred Sant telling Parliament that the opposition had to resort to this course of action after the Speaker turned down a breach of privilege complaint against the minister.
Dr Sant said the opposition would also be asking the Speaker to abstain from presiding over the sitting in view of his ruling.
The Opposition Leader in his privilege complaint had asked the Chair to rule whether Mr Mugliett had lied and misled the House when he answered questions on July 2 on the process which led the transport authority to stop the dismissal of two employees convicted of bribery, and particularly the fact that the minister had spoken of the decision having been taken collectively. The board of the ADT subsequently said it was not involved in the decision. Mr Speaker in his ruling read the transcript of Mr Mugliett's remarks.
There was no doubt, he said, that any MP who deliberately made a misleading statement would be in contempt of the House. However in the remarks made by Mr Mugliett, the context of the use of the word "collective" was not clear. It was not clear whether the minister had been referring to the board of the ADT or to other persons.
One could not assume that "collectively" referred to the board because it was not normal for a minister to attend board meetings of an autonomous authority.
Normally, "collective" was taken to mean that a decision would have been taken by more than one person together, but what Mr Mugliett had said was that "before the decision was taken, it was discussed collectively". This was different to a decision having been taken collectively. It meant that there had been consultations before somebody took a decision.
The Chair, therefore was not convinced without reasonable doubt that the term "collectively" had been used to mislead the House.
Mr Tabone said the Chair wanted to appeal to MPs to be clear in their declarations so that one would not get the impression that anyone was trying to mislead the House.
Mr Tabone also referred to the point raised by Dr Sant on whether the Chair should have acted on its own initiative in a case which amounted to gross misbehaviour.
He said that the reference to gross misbehaviour in standing orders applied to situations where the behaviour of a Member was such that a sitting could not be continued. Although a lie could lead to gross misbehaviour, this was not the sort of disorder that standing order 63, referred to by Dr Sant, applied to. Furthermore, the issue over whether or not Mr Mugliett had misled the House did not arise in the same sitting when Mr Mugliett made his original statement, Mr Tabone said.
After the Speaker finished reading his ruling, Dr Sant said the opposition now had no option but to move a no-confidence motion in the minister, and it would ask Mr Tabone to withdraw from presiding over the sitting.
Leader of the House Tonio Borg said a privilege complaint and a no-confidence motion were totally different. The former was regulated by standing orders while the latter was a political issue.
During Question Time, Dr Sant said he wanted to ask the Prime Minister about the circumstances which led him to turn down Mr Mugliett's offer to resign. Had Mr Mugliett also told him that the decision was a collective one? In what context had Mr Mugliett's offer to resign been refused when that of Foreign Minister John Dalli had been accepted? What was different between the two?
Mr Speaker said these questions were not related to the original question put to the Prime Minister (which was about workers in the Office of the Prime Minister who receive an allowance).
Dr Gonzi said he had spoken on the issues raised by Dr Sant in public and he was "dying to reply" to Dr Sant directly, but standing orders needed to be applied in equal measure to the government and the opposition. If Dr Sant would assure him that the opposition would not continue to abusively make calls for quorum he would reply to the questions immediately. Failing that, Dr Sant had to follow standing orders by submitting his questions in writing. He would then reply within three days, as laid down by the Orders.
Dr Sant said the opposition had been told that the House would rise for its summer recess on Wednesday (tomorrow). Was the Prime Minister using procedure to avoid replying on matters of national interest?
Dr Gonzi said he wanted to stress that he wanted to reply, even though he had spoken about the issue in detail in public. But standing orders had to apply equally to everyone. As to when the House would rise, one would have to see. If the opposition presented its motion of no confidence, it would be debated. There would be question time and Dr Sant would be able to have a reply to his questions according to standing orders.
The opposition motion was published by the MLP later yesterday.
The motion notes Mr Mugliett's remark that the decision for the ADT to suspend the dismissal of the two workers was a "collective decision," but the former CEO of the ADT as well as the board had said they were not participants in this decision.
It also notes that Dr Gonzi had promised a new style of politics.
The motion deplores government inaction against corruption and says that Dr Gonzi failed his duties when he refused Mr Mugliett's resignation and did not explain his actions in the House.
It then says that the House therefore declares it has no confidence in Mr Mugliett as a minister and as an MP.
Dr Sant yesterday also asked Dr Gonzi whether he would make a statement on the opening of Mater Dei Hospital, as minister Louis Galea had indicated he would.
Dr Gonzi said he would make a statement at the appropriate time.
Dr Sant said that now that the hospital was said to have been opened and celebrations and open days had been held, surely this was an appropriate time for the Prime Minister to explain the state of play.
Dr Gonzi said that throughout the history of Mater Dei Hospital Dr Sant had tried to use every opportunity to try to disrupt matters. He would deliver his statement at the proper time when he was sure that this danger no longer existed. It was worth pointing out, however, that he had so far made more statements on the hospital than Dr Sant had done in the whole term of his premiership.