Outgoing PN assistant general secretary Jean Pierre Debono could face disciplinary action after being severely rebuked over his handling of proxy votes in the leadership election, this newspaper was told.
This was confirmed by both former Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil and outgoing general secretary Rosette Thake yesterday when the Times of Malta sought their reaction to a confidential report by the electoral commission overseeing last week’s election. A leaked copy of the report was published by Malta Today on Thursday night.
Though the report flagged a number of irregularities and followed a meeting held two days before the September 16 election, it was decided that the voting should still take place because the electoral commission felt the integrity of the election process had not been compromised.
Dr Busuttil said the matter, including Mr Debono’s conduct, would be on the agenda of the next administrative council meeting, an entity embracing a restricted number of representatives from the various party structures.
According to the leaked report, the electoral commission was told that Mr Debono had collected a member’s voting document through a proxy, which was issued without the voter’s consent. The member said the signature on the proxy was not his.
Summoned by the commission for an explanation, Mr Debono, an MP who backed Adrian Delia, denied forging any signatures.
However, he admitted to having collected proxies so that sectional committees could collect voting documents on behalf of members unable to do so themselves.
In its conclusions, the commission chided Mr Debono for not informing it of what is described as a “ruse”, noting that what happened only came to light by accident.
He was also rebuked for failing to verify the identity of those who had made use of the proxies and for not ensuring the authenticity of the signatures. This was especially serious in the wake of the fact that Mr Debono was not personally present when the proxy was signed by the other party, according to the report.
The electoral commission also noted that he should have passed on the voting documents to the card-carrying members directly and not via the sectional committees.
Case did not cast doubts on the integrity of the entire process
It “condemned” practices breaching established procedures and the falsification of signatures to collect voting documents, saying these constituted illicit electoral practices.
The commission saw no need to suspend the election, saying this particular case did not cast doubts on the integrity of the entire process.
The stance was justified on grounds that it was felt there were enough safeguards in place to ensure the voters’ identity and, hence, no room for abuse.
In a statement, Mr Debono denied any wrongdoing saying he had acted in good faith to facilitate the distribution of voting documents to the elderly, regardless of their preferred candidate.
Condemning those who could have forged signatures, he wondered who could be behind the leak from within the party and asked what could have been the motive, saying this was an attempt to undermine the first days of Dr Delia’s leadership.
He said he had given a thorough explanation to the electoral commission.
When contacted, Dr Busuttil and Ms Thake noted that the report was brought to their attention on the eve of the leadership contest and they both defended the decision not to suspend the election.
“Considering that the report concluded that the incident did not cast any doubts on the integrity of the election process, there was no question of suspending the election, more so on the very eve of the election,” they said in separate but identical replies.
They confirmed that the matter had been referred to the relevant party structure for further action.
“With regard to the behaviour of the assistant general secretary, which was roundly condemned by the electoral commission, we decided that the matter should be referred to the administrative council for any disciplinary action it may deem fit,” they added.
“The matter will, therefore, be raised by the general secretary at the next meeting of the administrative council.”
Gozitan MP Chris Said, who lost to Dr Delia by 800 votes in the election during which 15,000-odd members cast their ballot, admitted he was shocked by the development. Noting he only learnt of the report from the media, he called on the party to look further into the matter.
“The way forward is to investigate whether this was an isolated incident or a widespread practice and, if necessary, proceed against whoever was responsible,” Dr Said told this newspaper yesterday.