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People greater than the party - Franco Debono

Franco Debono

Franco Debono

Nationalist backbencher Franco Debono, who this month controversially put the government's one-seat majority in jeopardy, yesterday insisted parliamentarians were not party delegates but representatives of the people.

Responding to criticism by former finance minister George Bonello Dupuis in The Sunday Times, the 35-year-old lawyer said he wanted to make several "urgent" points, not arm the Opposition.

He said backbenchers should not be ignored, aspects of the justice system needed to be revamped, and his district in the south, especially Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk, needed urgent attention.

Dr Debono added that Parliament's procedures should be updated, with better use of media to convey messages, and more autonomy.

He pointed out that for two years he had been harping on about the need to implement a law that has already been passed: to allow legal assistance during police interrogations.

"Since it was passed seven years ago this law has not been put into force, even though the European court ruled it as a fundamental human right. This is the dignity of Parliament I spoke about. Is this not an urgent matter? Shouldn't every person who is to be interrogated have the basic right to consult a lawyer?"

Dr Bonello Dupuis said that Dr Debono had ruined his career by missing two votes in Parliament because he could never be trusted again. He added that no one was greater than the party, which needed to be built on teamwork.

He argued that criticism should be kept within the confines of the party, not made in public.

Dr Debono said he understood the importance of teamwork and that ideally criticism should remain internal, but this was not always possible. He added that in Dr Bonello Dupuis's time the backbench was much smaller and the Cabinet much larger.

"Politics is not a career. Politics is a service, a mission. If I am to choose between a decision that will lengthen my political career and a decision in the interest of the people, I will always choose the people's interests before my own," Dr Debono responded.

He said he had enormous respect for Dr Bonello Dupuis's 25 years of service, both as a Maltese, and as a Nationalist.

Times changed, however, and nowadays there was resistance to the concept that "no one is greater than the party".

"The people are sovereign and the Constitution is supreme. There is no one greater than the people. The people are represented in Parliament. Therefore parliamentarians are not party delegates but representatives of the people elected on a party ticket, which is different."

Dr Debono said he had been calling for a law on party financing and it "baffled" him how a democracy could thrive in 2010 without such a law.

Ten years ago, he submitted a thesis about political party funding and almost 20 years ago Italy (which was already late) was going through great reforms in this respect.

"But we still have no law. This is a very urgent matter.

"Besides that, only the people, the electorate, which is sovereign, has the right to decide whether to trust any politician or not, and no one else.

"In this small country of ours, we should all make the greatest effort to reduce political polarisation. Today we are even questioning the relevance of party stations. First and foremost we are Maltese and then, as is essential in a democracy, we support this party or that."

He said he was proud to be part of the Nationalist Party, his "natural home", in which he has been active since he was 23, and he was loyal to the PN, despite not having an easy ride to get elected.

However, he expected to see more team spirit and did not want to be ignored on such urgent issues. He could not wait for five years to get results on these issues.

He added that one suggestion he was recently given was to create a committee of backbenchers so that they could be consulted more, as is done in the British Conservative Party (the 1922 committee).

He said time would tell whether his actions had been fruitful but what hurt him were comments that this was all an "ego-trip" or about greed.

"I had a direct interest in the vote so I also had something to lose," he said.

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