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‘Vote buying that verges on corrupt practices’

Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil yesterday accused the Labour Party of “vote-buying” during the election campaign, saying this verged on “corrupt practices”.

Dr Muscat was reaping what he sowed

Dr Busuttil also claimed he had evidence of such “scandalous” vote-buying – such as Labour officials telling prisoners they would get an amnesty – but it was up to the authorities to investigate and prosecute accordingly.

Asked whether he was making allegations similar to those made by former Labour deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia about the 2008 election, Dr Busuttil said this was completely different. Dr Farrugia’s allegations, he explained during an interview on the Nationalist Party’s radio station, were made about individual employers not the party as a whole.

He said Labour promised everything to everyone, including promotions and jobs.

Dr Busuttil also alleged that the Government had made a prior agreement with former European Commissioner John Dalli to give him an executive role before the police announced there was no criminal case against him.

“Things happened in such a short time that there must have already been a plan for him,” he told interviewer Andrew Azzopardi when asked whether the PN was not quick enough on the draw.

During the wide-ranging discussion, Dr Busuttil accused the Government of dropping ethical standards rather than raising them as promised. The Chinese company that offered the Government a free feasibility study on a proposed bridge between Malta and Gozo should be excluded from tendering for the project because of a direct “conflict of interest”, he said.

It was bad enough that the company was blacklisted by the World Bank and that it had an interest in telling the Government to build a bridge since it was a company specialised in building bridges. “Yet, the contract simply said that they would not necessarily be the ones to build it,” Dr Busuttil noted.

The PN leader accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of trying to give a pay rise to members of his parliamentary group after five years of “politicising the (honoraria) issue unnecessarily”.

By giving backbenchers chairmanships, Dr Muscat was blurring their role to scrutinise the Government while giving them a second paycheque, he said.

“Dr Muscat is reaping what he sowed,” he said when asked whether he felt ministers and parliamentary secretaries were paid enough. Pointing out that Malta had among the lowest paid MPs in Europe, he said he was not willing to discuss the issue at this stage because it had been too politicised.

He later acknowledged that the PN made mistakes on this matter and others but said Labour was not elected to “emulate our mistakes”.

Dr Busuttil said it was unacceptable for the Government to have allowed a person facing fraud charges to be a candidate in the casual elections held to fill the seats vacated by MEPs who were elected to the Maltese Parliament..

Asked about his party, Dr Busuttil said it was “obvious” that its debts ran into millions of euros but said the commission he appointed should make recommendations to tackle the problem by the end of this month.

Questioned about a report by The Sunday Times of Malta that former Transport Minister Austin Gatt was being investigated by the Tax Compliance Unit, Dr Busuttil said he had not yet read the papers because he had been to Mass before the interview. However, he said, if an investigation was underway, one should wait for its outcome. “Dr Gatt is not part of the party or the parliamentary group any longer,” he quipped. If the issue of Dr Gatt’s Swiss account had influenced the electoral result, the PN had already paid the price for it, Dr Busuttil noted. On the defeat report, he acknowledged that most of it seemed to be “stating the obvious” but its innovation was in listing all the reasons in one document.

The PN was in the process of discussing and implementing the report’s recommendations. One suggestion that particularly caught his attention was that party leaders should not stay on for more than 10 years. He said the PN lost in 1996 after two terms and almost lost again in 2008 after two terms despite having a new leader. Asked if he thought the party would have lost this year’s election with the same magnitude if Labour was still led by Alfred Sant, Dr Busuttil said: “We would have lost the election.”

He added that this was the “normal evolution in a democratic country” and the electorate decided the time had come for the PN to be in Opposition. “We heeded that message,” he said.

He said the defeat report was not published in full because he did not want people to pick out individual sentences or to identify the people interviewed.

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