PN cracks whip, expects all MPs to vote against motion
PN motion urges Austin Gatt to continue work of improving bus transport network
The Nationalist Party’s executive has called on all its MPs to vote against the Labour party’s motion of no confidence in the Transport Minister as pressure mounts on dissenting backbencher Franco Debono to toe the party line.
In a meeting that lasted an hour yesterday, the executive unanimously approved a motion put forward by general secretary Paul Borg Olivier “recommending” that Nationalist MPs vote against Labour’s motion in Parliament.
Dr Debono did not attend the meeting and when contacted confirmed he would abstain in today’s vote.
“I will not be an accomplice with those who will make a mockery of democracy and I will abstain,” he said.
Leaving the meeting yesterday Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said he did not want to speculate when asked what would happen if Dr Debono abstained.
However, some of Dr Debono’s parliamentary colleagues told journalists outside the PN headquarters that they expected him to vote in line with the parliamentary group.
Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino, party whip David Agius, parliamentary assistant Beppe Fenech Adami and backbencher Francis Zammit Dimech said Dr Debono should vote according to the party line.
The motion of no confidence in Transport Minister Austin Gatt over his handling of the bus reform will be debated today and a vote is expected this evening.
If Dr Debono abstains the government’s hope of defeating the motion rests with the Speaker’s casting vote.
Dr Gonzi said that during the executive’s meeting on Monday, Dr Debono was given the possibility to propose an amendment to the Opposition’s motion. “This avenue has not yet been exhausted and it remains open until tomorrow (today),” he said.
Dr Gonzi skirted the question when asked whether he considered the motion to be a vote of confidence in the government and insisted the bus reform was an important one which had been promised in the PN’s electoral manifesto. The government took the decision and believed in this reform, he added.
On the issue of time allocation for today’s debate, in which Dr Debono has been given five minutes to speak, Dr Gonzi said all MPs, including the Deputy Prime Minister, were allotted five minutes because of time constraints.
From the government bench it is only the Prime Minister and Dr Gatt who have been allotted more time: 30 minutes and one hour respectively. Dr Gatt did not comment after the meeting.
The motion proposes another meeting of the executive in February to assess the progress of the changes to the bus network that will be introduced next week.
It also urges Dr Gatt to carry on with his work to improve the network and take all contractual measures necessary to ensure bus company Arriva assumes responsibility and provides the necessary buses, frequency, punctuality and efficiency to satisfy the demand.
The motion also notes that Dr Gatt had already shouldered political responsibility for the route changes that caused widespread criticism when he offered his resignation but this was rejected by the Prime Minister.
In the only reference to the widespread criticism the reform has received from commuters, the PN motion notes that the service has not yet met people’s expectations especially on certain routes, at particular times and on the frequency of service.
Dr Debono has insisted all along that he wants Dr Gatt to shoulder political responsibility for the failures that have characterised the new bus service since its introduction in July.