Government defeats PL honoraria motion
An obscene double salary – Muscat
The government yesterday survived a contentious vote in Parliament over ministers’ pay rises, despite the reservations of two Nationalist MPs.
After two days of fiery speeches, the mood in Parliament was tense just before the vote when it was still unclear whether the government had the full support of its MPs.
Minutes before the vote, Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said he had planned to vote in favour of the Labour Party’s motion condemning a Cabinet decision taken in May 2008 to award raises to ministers.
He said he initially wanted to vote with the opposition to reflect public opinion on the matter – as well as to echo Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s explanation that it was acceptable for MPs to vote against divorce in Parliament to reflect division on the issue in the country.
However, Dr Pullicino Orlando said he changed his mind after Dr Gonzi spoke in Parliament and showed goodwill to discuss a transparent and open way forward.
Dr Gonzi, whose counter-motion was approved by Parliament, called for a Select Committee to Strengthen Democracy to recommence, which would discuss various issues with the opposition including a way forward on the impasse over ministers’ pay.
Meanwhile, Nationalist MP Jesmond Mugliett told the press earlier he would vote against the PL motion because it did not offer a solution and was simply an affirmation of public opinion over the matter, which the government had already noted.
“I will vote with the government because I feel today’s vote can be considered by some as being a sign of instability in the government,” the former minister said in a statement.
Mr Mugliett said he still had many unanswered questions over the anomalous way raises were awarded to the Prime Minister, ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
The Prime Minister had a duty to explain the “administrative error” mentioned in a previous parliamentary group meeting as to why ministers began receiving their raises before the decision was communicated to Parliament, the opposition and the public.
He asked whether any action was taken against the person who committed this error.
Mr Mugliett said: “It is said that the Speaker of the day was meant to communicate the decision but did not because of certain circumstances and changes in the Labour Party leadership. I am still not convinced of this part of the story and I think the government is responsible to clarify this shortcoming.”
The statements came on the second day of a parliamentary debate on the matter, just before the vote was taken.
Dr Gonzi made his contribution in the morning in a passionate speech where he defended the decision and criticised the Labour Party for being hypocritical.
He said former Speaker Louis Galea received a higher salary because he was a full-time Speaker, unlike Michael Frendo who opted to retain his private practice. The intention was also to give the opposition leader the option of a full-time salary.
Rejecting claims that the Cabinet decision lacked transparency, Dr Gonzi said, however, he had no problem with drawing up a unanimous and transparent way forward through the setting up of the Select Committee. He said a mechanism should be used to determine salaries of political office holders, possibly in line with that used by the British House of Commons.
The Prime Minister’s motion was seconded by Mr Mugliett.
The opposition voted against Dr Gonzi’s motion, with Labour leader Joseph Muscat saying the party was open to discussions on the Select Committee but that the Prime Minister did not commit himself to any changes or refunds of the pay rises received by ministers.
The Labour Party had walked out of the Select Committee in protest last year after government parliamentarians claimed Labour MP Justyne Caruana had voted against her party in Parliament. Labour has requested an apology, which was never forthcoming.
Dr Muscat said the pay rises issue would not be discussed, saying that the Labour Party had already put forward its proposals which the government rejected.
“Dr Gonzi wants to discuss but keep his €500 per week increase. He does not want to give back the money he took and does not want to give an indication that he will stop receiving this obscene double salary,” Dr Muscat said.
After the sitting, Nationalist MP Jean Pierre Farrugia, who was critical of the rises but also of Labour’s motion, said he looked forward to the Select Committee “doing its job”.
During the parliamentary debate, Labour deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia accused the Cabinet of committing a crime, a claim rejected by Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who said the opposition’s attitude was pushing people away from politics.
Labour whip Joe Mizzi said fresh calculations which included other tax-free allowances showed Cabinet planned to give itself a pay rise in excess of €700 a week.
He also tabled documents showing that the rises were not outlined in ministers’ income declarations or in the budget votes. Mr Mizzi augured that the Auditor General would continue probing the matter.