Will Speaker decide Austin Gatt’s fate?
Transport Minister Austin Gatt’s fate in Cabinet during Friday’s vote of no confidence may very well be decided by Speaker Michael Frendo.
With Nationalist backbencher Franco Debono saying he may abstain on an opposition motion calling for Dr Gatt’s resignation over the handling of public transport reform, the parliamentary vote could be tied.
If the motion gains an equal number of votes in favour and against it will be the Speaker who will use his casting vote to tip the balance either way.
According to the Constitution the Speaker shall exercise his casting vote if the votes are equally divided. But it makes no provision as to how he shall vote.
Normal parliamentary practice is for the Speaker to vote for the discussion to continue but parliamentary veterans told The Sunday Times that this case was different and Dr Frendo’s hands were not tied either way.
Sources said the Labour Party was expecting Dr Frendo to vote against the opposition motion not to embarrass the government.
The vote of no confidence does not carry legal consequences for Dr Gatt and the government.
Article 81 of the Constitution only makes provisions for the removal of the Prime Minister from office if a parliamentary resolution of noconfidence in government is supported by a majority of MPs.
This is not the case since the Labour motion specifically calls for Dr Gatt’s resignation and the Constitution makes no provision for the removal of ministers by parliamentary resolutions.
Even so, the motion carries moral weight and Dr Gatt has already publicly declared that he will resign if the Labour motion passes.
Dr Gatt yesterday stood by this statement but declined to elaborate when asked what his stand will be if the government side carried the day with the Speaker’s casting vote.
“The minister has nothing to add to the previous statement,” a spokesman said.
Ironically, Dr Gatt’s fate may rest with the same man whose bus reform was criticised in a 2008 document on public transport reform drawn up by his ministry.
As transport minister in 1995, Dr Frendo was responsible for the bus reform that guaranteed all bus owners a stable income through subsidies irrespective of the number of passengers they carried.
This aspect of the reform was described as a failure in the 2008 report by Dr Gatt’s ministry that laid down the vision that would eventually materialise three years later.
The motion of no confidence in Dr Gatt will be discussed on Friday and the debate will be spread over the morning and evening sessions.