Gonzi offers Labour joint House committee
The Prime Minister yesterday sought desperately to head off the spectre of a highly damaging vote in Parliament tomorrow, with a request to Labour to postpone discussion of its motion on transport reform and another effort planned to persuade MP Franco Debono to return to government ranks.
Lawrence Gonzi said if the Opposition Leader really wanted the best for the country he should put off the discussion.
If this was done he was willing to set up a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the transport reform and ensure it was concluded positively.
Dr Gonzi was speaking at the annual general meeting of the PN’s youth movement, which took a unanimous stand urging Nationalist MPs to reject the opposition’s “opportunistic” motion of no-confidence in Transport Minister Austin Gatt over the failed transport reform.
Although the MŻPN acknowledged both the positive changes and the shortcomings in the bus service and looked forward to its improvement, its own motion criticised the Opposition for not giving any feedback during the consultation period.
The Prime Minister lent weight to the MŻPN motion when, in an hour-long speech, he said he agreed with it perfectly.
Dr Gonzi said he wanted to transform the “typical Labourite negative motion” into a “perfectly Nationalist, realistic, optimistic and constructive” motion, in the spirit of the MŻPN stand. This would be the ideal solution, he said.
He announced that the PN would hold a third executive meeting today on the subject, after the two held in the past weeks, to conclude discussions ahead of the vote.
If there was no agreement on the amendment, he said, he would expect all Nationalist MPs to vote against the opposition motion.
However, Dr Debono remained unmoved by Dr Gonzi’s appeal, repeating his intention to abstain from the motion last night.
Dr Debono is the only MP who has declared he will be abstaining from the motion, which, due to the government’s one-seat majority, would leave its outcome up to the Speaker’s casting vote. Nationalist MP Jesmond Mugliett has refused to say how he may be voting.
At Monday’s PN executive meeting, officials urged Dr Debono to propose an amendment to Labour’s motion which would acknowledge the failures of the reform but not go as far as to demand Dr Gatt’s resignation.
If this happens, the amended motion is likely to be approved and will supersede the one presented by the opposition, rescuing Dr Gatt from an embarrassing end to his long political career.
Dr Debono promised to evaluate the possibility of putting forward such an amendment but when contacted yesterday he stressed that his position had not yet changed.
Meanwhile, several questions remain unanswered about the surprise announcement made on Tuesday afternoon that Dr Gatt offered his resignation to the Prime Minister a month ago.
Dr Gonzi said he refused this offer, which was made during a Cabinet session on October 3, just three days before Dr Gatt said he was “baffled” as to why he was being blamed for Arriva’s shortcomings. Some time afterwards, Dr Gatt assumed political responsibility only to tell the PN executive meeting this week that the reform was approved in detail by the entire Cabinet and he could therefore not be held singularly responsible.
Dr Gatt has refused to clarify his position or to explain whether he submitted his resignation in writing or as a passing remark in Cabinet.
“I have nothing to add as I do not clarify remarks made by the Prime Minister,” he told The Times when contacted yesterday. He also declined to confirm whether he would approve an amendment to the Labour Party’s motion which included an apology from him.
Meanwhile, Dr Gonzi has gone on record saying that the whole Cabinet was “assuming political responsibility” for the reform, though he has refused to define what this means.
He also failed to say whether the parliamentary vote was being seen as a vote of no confidence in the entire Cabinet and whether all members would resign if it passed.
“There’s nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has already stated publicly,” his spokesman said yesterday.