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Updated: Debono: I should be special delegate

PN’s ‘not so conservative wing has been destroyed’

Updated - Adds more comments by Dr Debono

Nationalist MP Franco Debono believes he should have been appointed instead of MEP Simon Busuttil as Lawrence Gonzi’s special delegate to reach out and listen to civil society. Dr Debono says he has “enormous respect” for Dr Busuttil and enjoys a very good relationship with him.

I am not ashamed to say it. I was the catalyst for all this

“But since I had spoken about the possibility of a clique within the party, I wouldn’t have taken a decision which even remotely could give a vague impression that it is always the same people who are appointed,” Dr Debono told The Times yesterday, adding that no reasons were given for Dr Busuttil’s appointment.

Prime Minister and PN leader Lawrence Gonzi appointed the hugely popular Dr Busuttil (as chairman of the party’s AŻAD think tank) to be his special delegate to coordinate the party’s communication exercise after the general council confirmed Dr Gonzi as party leader last month. Asked if he should have been chosen instead of Dr Busuttil, Dr Debono said: “Yes. Of course. I am not ashamed to say it. I was the catalyst for all this. I told them to replace GonziPN with the people’s PN.

“I can tell him (Dr Gonzi) what the people are saying. I have been saying so for ages. If he is going to start respecting the people he should start by respecting those who represent them: MPs.”

Dr Debono said Justice Minister Chris Said had sent him an SMS for help when he was appointed minister after the January Cabinet reshuffle he instigated. Now Dr Busuttil sent him a similar SMS after being appointed as a special delegate.

“Please stop it,” Dr Debono said.

Dr Debono, who abstained from a vote of no confidence in the government in January after threatening to vote against, said if these remedies did not work, “we will be stuck again”.

Now that mistakes had been acknowledged, the Prime Minister must fix what he broke. “It’s useless giving me a ball (to play with) if you have broken my leg,” he added.

“Listening to the people won’t change anything. It’s the top echelons which must change.”

Stretching the government-with-a-puncture metaphor used in the confidence debate, Dr Debono said he was the one who pointed out that the problem with the car was the driver and the engine. However, he had been left by the wayside and not given a lift.

Dr Debono also lashed out at general secretary Paul Borg Olivier, Malta’s EU ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana and PN Sliema local council candidate Julian Galea – and said the three of them should move on.

He said Dr Borg Olivier was not delivering and had his duties transferred to Transport Minister Austin Gatt and former general secretary Joe Saliba – who Dr Debono described as “one of the things leading to hope in the PN”.

“I have faith in [Joe Saliba] because he is down to earth. I think if he had been there from the start we would not have had one tenth of the problems we have been through.”

Dr Gonzi recently tasked Dr Borg Olivier with helping ministers organise outreaches but Dr Debono said this was just a “consolation prize” and that such meetings should have been done on the general secretary’s own initiative.

Shifting his focus to Mr Cachia Caruana, Dr Debono said the man who spent decades being consulted by PN leaders had given a good contribution in the past, “but there comes a time when even valid people must move on”.

As the person who came up with the idea of GonziPN, “which turned out to be a mess”, it would be a grave contradiction if he were to stay on after his mistakes were acknowledged, Dr Debono said.

Dr Debono also called for the resignation of former Sliema councillor Julian Galea, whose “phobia” for Labourites emerged recently with the publication of secret recordings of informal local council meetings.

Mr Galea said he paid Labour employees less than Nationalists and was forced to apologise by his party.

Dr Debono warned that this was another case where the PN was associated with a “culture of hatred” – of which he said he was also a victim.

The overwhelming support for Dr Gonzi in the leadership vote also showed that the “not-so-conservative” wing of the PN, which used to be represented by people like Guido de Marco and John Dalli in the past, had been “destroyed” – to the point that many have left the party structures.

“Many people are not feeling appreciated by the party,” he said, adding that the less conservative wing was the one that attracted floaters. Dr Debono stressed that he had never criticised the government before the 2009 MEP election, which the PN lost by a landslide.

He also rejected the label of “dissenter”, saying he had brought the party “out of the wilderness” and back on track.

"I was first to insist on people's PN"

Further to the above story, Nationalist MP Franco Debono explained this afternoon that he was the first one to have insisted on the PN going back to the people, having told a local newspaper on February 19: “GonziPN should go back to being the people’s party that it once was.”  

“I indicated the mistakes and I had the courage to force change, indicating the direction from Gonzipn to people's PN. The mistakes I had indicated are now acknowledged and the motif I suggested people's PN  is now hailed.”
 
Dr Debono said that in such circumstances one would have appreciated the logic of being offered the possibility of implementing the remedies, although that did not mean that he would have  accepted.
 
“I appreciated Simon Busuttil's approach and I have no problem to work with him. His and Chris Said's invites were genuine and well meant.” 

“The formula for any future solution should be to repair what has been broken, according to accountability and meritocracy.”
 
Dr Debono said that in the past years he had been the catalyst for major fundamental and important reforms in the party and in government, which others had  then implemented whilst he sacrificed his political career and ended up with police security behind his door because of a hate campaign against him.

The method he had used, he said, was proportionate to the urgency and importance of the issues.
 
“Instead of being shown gratitude for being proved right I see disrespect from those who were proved wrong.”

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