Cachia Caruana fights back
Cachia Caruana denies ‘treason’
Malta’s EU ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana emerged smiling from a three-hour grilling in Parliament yesterday in which he gave evidence toshow how the opposition’s accusations in his regard were untrue.
“I categorically deny all the charges brought against me. They are all false, unfounded, grave and defamatory,” he began, adding that if the claims had not been made by MPs with parliamentary privilege, he would have defended his reputation in court.
Mr Cachia Caruana was addressing Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to respond to an opposition motion which claims he conspired with other countries to find ways of circumventing Parliament on crucial foreign policy issues against the national interest.
Mr Cachia Caruana said he always acted in the national interest. He also followed government policy and the Prime Minister’s instructions at all times.
He could not understand how the opposition had filed such a resignation motion without first asking for his version of the facts.
“I have taken this personally,” he told shadow foreign minister George Vella, who responded by saying he had nothing personal against Mr Cachia Caruana.
Mr Cachia Caruana presented the committee with a chronology of events detailing the two meetings referred to in the US cables published by Wikileaks.
The cables were written by someone who had not even attended the meetings and whom Mr Cachia Caruana had never met. Labour’s error, he said, was interpreting the cables as minutes rather than analysis and comment by US diplomats, while ignoring the government’s documented minutes of these same meetings.
‘I was always in favour of consultation with the opposition’
The discussions quoted in the cables went back to 2004 when Malta was being blocked from accessing EU-Nato discussions and documents on security policy because it wasno longer a member of Nato’s Partnershipfor Peace.
Mr Cachia Caruana said some solutions had already been discussed before he was enrolled as Malta’s permanent representative to the EU, but he continued to seek a solution. At all stages, he said, Malta objected to rejoining Partnership for Peace, not to avoid Parliament but to avoid dismantling the “fragile consensus” being reached on EU membership.
Mr Cachia Caruana categorically deniedhaving discussed ways of circumventingparliamentary scrutiny.
He explained how the US suggested that since in 1996 Malta had withdrawn from the Partnership for Peace programme, Malta could argue that its security agreement with Nato – one of four aspects of Partnership for Peace – remained in force. The Attorney General had agreed with this legal interpretation, even though Nato later dismissed it.
Dr Vella objected to this interpretation, saying he had withdrawn from the entire programme in 1996, not just one aspect. The government’s theory went against what the electorate had decided in 1996 and was a “lie”.
At this point, Mr Cachia Caruana turned to Dr Vella and told him: “This was not about you or whether or not you withdrew in the correct manner.” This was about “finding solutions” for Malta’s national interest. Mr Cachia Caruana added that it was the duty of civil servants to propose solutions and this motion was going to scare them from doing so in the future.
In another instance, Mr Cachia Caruana took Labour to task for accusing him of treason.
Contrary to what he did in a previous sitting with the Prime Minister, Dr Vella did not stand by the claim of treason and instead challenged Mr Cachia Caruana to see where treason was mentioned in the motion.
Mr Cachia Caruana said the motion accused him of working in the interests of other countries rather than Malta. This was tantamount to treason.
At one point, Dr Vella asked Mr CachiaCaruana whether he ever advised thegovernment to consult with the oppositionon the problem Malta was facing and thepossible solutions.
Mr Cachia Caruana said none of theproposals had matured enough to be brought to Parliament.
He added that the problem Malta was facing was well documented on the news and he would have expected the opposition to have asked about it if there was any interest.
He added that he was always in favour of consultation with the opposition but he was not responsible for this aspect of government work and he could not order ministers to consult the opposition.
Dr Vella interjected and asked him whether he had at any stage issued advice for the government to consult.
At this point, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg interrupted enthusiastically to point out how the opposition’s accusations had changed.
Initially, the opposition was claiming Mr Cachia Caruana had conspired to avoidParliamentary scrutiny.
“Now they are trying to condemn him for omitting to advise consultation,” he said.
Yesterday’s discussion was calmer than previous sessions with the Prime Minister, but tensions flared at points.
When Dr Vella began asking Mr Cachia Caruana about his work as a PN campaign manager in the past, Dr Borg objected, saying the question was irrelevant to the motion. Picking up a copy of Labour’s motion, he shouted: “Show me the treason!”
Meanwhile, Mr Cachia Caruana replied to Dr Vella’s question by saying he was always able to separate government and party affairs.
In another instance, Dr Vella began asking Mr Cachia Caruana about a speech he gave recently at a public seminar of AŻAD.
The questioning will continue on Monday.