Debono evaluating option of amendment to Labour motion
Nationalist MP Franco Debono will be evaluating the option of moving an amendment to the Labour motion calling for the resignation of Transport Minister Austin Gatt because of the failed public transport reform, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said yesterday.
This was the conclusion reached following a four-and-a-half hour Nationalist Party Executive meeting held last night specifically to discuss the transport reform and the motion.
This means it remains unclear how Dr Debono will vote in Parliament on the motion scheduled for Friday. He had said he would abstain in the name of political accountability.
If Dr Debono does abstain, the Speaker would have to use his casting vote given the government’s slender one-seat majority.
Sources described yesterday’s meeting as “passionate” and “quite heated” as several members of the executive team voiced their views on the subject “diplomatically”.
Dr Debono was encouraged to vote with his party against the motion but stuck to his guns. He, however, agreed to evaluate the option of an amendment to the motion. Dr Gatt pointed out that Dr Debono never spoke to him about problems, sources said.
Party members pointed out that the failed transport reform should not have had to be discussed by the executive under such circumstances but the party’s core should have met up before.
Speaking to the media outside the PN headquarters in Pietà after the meeting, Dr Gonzi said the meeting, held on the request of Dr Debono, was “constructive” and it was recognised that the reform was important for the country.
He said it was agreed that the reform had to reach the expectations of the government and the public and it was recognised there was still work to be done although the situation had already improved.
It was also agreed that there had to be methods in place to ensure necessary changes took place.
Asked if anyone would be shouldering political responsibility he replied: “I am assuming it, all Cabinet is assuming it as the reform was an electoral promise.”
Meanwhile MPs Jesmond Mugliett and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando decided not to attend yesterday’s meeting as they felt they had heard enough about the subject.
Mr Mugliett said he would not declare his vote on the motion while Dr Pullicino Orlando said he would not be voting in favour of the Labour motion.
After the opposition filed the motion of no confidence in Dr Gatt, Dr Debono went on record saying he may abstain on the vote in Parliament, unless Dr Gatt shouldered his responsibilities.
He insisted that accountability was an essential element of democracy and one could not ignore the fact that taxpayers had forked out some €55 million for this reform.
The subject was placed on the agenda during a Nationalist Party executive council meeting, on October 20, on Dr Debono’s insistence.
Following that meeting, sources said Dr Debono reiterated his decision and the executive decided to hold another meeting that was scheduled for the following Monday to specifically discuss the transport situation.
That time Dr Debono gave his colleagues the impression that he was “softening up” because of the way he spoke following Dr Gatt’s extensive presentation on the reform and plans to improve the service.
However, when contacted later on in the week Dr Debono kept his cards to his chest, but indicated he may still abstain.
Ever since Arriva took over the public transport service, in July, the reform has come under fire for various reasons including delays and badly-planned routes.
During a press conference held on October 15 (two days after Dr Debono first said he would abstain) Dr Gatt admitted the new transport system had not worked and that the government had made a mistake.
“We were to blame. The choices were over-ambitious – we were too avant-garde, too innovative,” he told the press conference adding that the improved transport system will start operating from November 6.