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JPO to back Opposition motion against Cachia Caruana

CONSTANTLY UPDATED -Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando declared this evening that he would back an Opposition motion calling for the resignation of Richard Cachia Caruana.

He stressed when speaking in Parliament however that he would continue to back the government and the prime minister therefore did not need to call a vote of confidence.

In a speech in the House, Dr Pullicino Orlando lashed out at Mr Cachia Carauna, accusing him of ignoring democratic norms and being disrespectful to the institutions of the House. He said there were some 10 other Nationalist MPs who also wished to back this motion.

Dr Pullicino Orlando was speaking during the Full House debate on an opposition motion calling for Mr Cachia Caruana's resignation over meetings with American officials in November 2004 during which, it claimed, he had negotiated behind Parliament's back to take Malta back in Partnership for Peace. The meetings were revealed in a document revealed by Wikileaks.

Richard Cachia CaruanaRichard Cachia Caruana

Dr Pullicino Orlando started off by referring to the no confidence motion against Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici and said he disagreed that he should have been singled out. (As Dr Franco Debono rose to interject Dr Pullicino Orlando asked him to sit down)

Turning to Mr Cachia Caruana, Dr Pullicino Orlando said media reports of a bad personal relationship between him and Mr Cachia Carauan were wrong, They cooperated over issues of the Malta Council for Science and Technology. They recently met at his (Dr Pullicino Orlando's) home. There were no personal or professional problems between them.

At issue, he said, was the motion's claim that Mr Cachia Caruana had ignored parliament. An analysis was needed of how Mr Cachia Carauana acted within the country's democratic norms including respect for parliament and the free press.

Did Mr Cachia Caruana exert undue influence? In the press, it was clear that Mr Cachia Carauna was a major influence. Some journalists were his acolytes, including Daphne Caruana Galizia, Lou Bondi, Fr Joe Borg, Ivan Camilleri and Andrew Borg Caruana. 

Those who disagreed with Mr Caruana were targeted. Roger Mifsud, a former deputy editor of The Times had written how Mr Cachia Caruana tried to  intimate him and Mr Mifsud reported him to Dr Eddie Fenech Adami.

Those who were attacked through some of Mr Cachia Caruana's acolytes included Guido de Marco, John Dalli, Jesmond Mugliette, Louis Galea, Michael Frendo, Robert Arrigo and Jean-Pierre Farrugia. 

This, Dr Pullicino Orlando said, showed Mr Cachia Caruana's disdain to democratic norms.

Martin Scicluna, defence adviser at the Office of the Prime Minister had written that: "ministers and parliamentary secretary were treated with utter disdain by him and his remark on bicca deputat with regard to Franco Debono rings true."

Dr Pullicino Orlando said that at least 10 Nationalist MPs wanted to back this motion as they felt that Mr Cachia Caruana had exerted his influence so that some of them were removed or worse, showing disdain for the democratic system. This was evidenced by the small number of Nationalist MPs who wished to speak on this motion.

His view, Dr Pullicino Orlando said that when he could no longer tolerate a particular situation, he had to act. He had decided not to stand for re-election. Before the general election he was used as the sacrificial lamb. He was a puppet in Mr Cachia Caruana's hand when Dr Sant was unfairly accusing him of corruption.

His initial reaction was to ignore Dr Sant but the prime minister had asked him to follow Mr Cachia Caruana's guidance and everything he did or said was according to what Mr Cachia Caruana instructed. They managed to convince hundreds of voters to see that Dr Sant was acting as a bully. 

But after the election Mr Cachia Caruana worked to try and force his resignation from parliament because he had become too popular. He knew that he could not be depended upon to always bow his head. He instigated everyone in the media to press for his resignation form the House for allegedly disobeying the prime minster, something which was not  true. It was Mrs Caruana Galizia herself who told him of those efforts. She had written: All efforts by some elements in the PN to force JPO to vacate his seat drive against our form of individual democracy...that seat does not belong to the PN but to JPO. MPs are answerable only to their constituents. No one has the right to work for the removal of an MP except those who voted for them at an election..it's called democracy as against stalinism.

Mrs Caruana Galizia had revealed that she too was at the receiving end of a telephone call, a call, Dr Pullicino Orlando said which was part of the instigation to remove him from parliament. 

Dr Pullicino Orlando said Mr Cachia Caruana himself had admitted that he called off his attacks on orders from the prime minister.

His actions, however, continually showed disrespect for democracy. His actions had put off genuine Nationalists. He did not have the least doubt that what was said in the Wikileaks cable was true. He had no doubt that Mr Cachia Caruana had negotiated with senior American officials behind Parliament's back.

As Wikileaks revealed, Mr Cachia Caruana had also had talks with the Turkish ambassador and against the sentiments of the Maltese people and the members of the European Popular Party, he had backed EU membership for Malta, a stand then taken by the Maltese government.

Dr Pullicino Orlando said he would therefore back the Opposition motion against Mr Cachia Caruana.

Earlier in the debate, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said that the Opposition's motion against Richard Cachia Caruana was only a smokescreen by the Opposition to hide its own U-Turn on Partnership for Peace.

He said Joseph Muscat in 2009 had a meeting with the US ambassador where he said that Labour had concluded that PfP membership did not violate Malta's Constitution. That meeting was not revealed for two years, until Wikileaks published a document about Dr Muscat's meeting. Labour then presented this notion as a smokescreen to hide its own U-turn.

The Opposition's motion,  calling for the resignation of Richard Cachia Caruana, Malta's representative to the EU, is being held in the Whole House after several meetings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee where Mr Cachia Caruana and the prime minister were questioned by MPs.

See details of motion at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120421/local/Labour-wants-our-man-in-Brussels-to-go.416386

The debate was opened by Labour MP Luciano Busuttil, who said that this was not a motion against any country or against Nato itself.

Dr Luciano Busuttil.Dr Luciano Busuttil.

This motion, he said, stemmed from a document leaked by Wikileaks which revealed meetings which Mr Cachia Caruana and other Maltese officials  held with American and other officials where talks were held on possibly taking Malta back into Partnership for Peace. Those talks were held behind parliament's back.

The government was now saying that those talks were about access for Malta to Nato/EU security documents. Even so, Dr Busuttil said, parliament was never informed of what had been going on.

It was being claimed that Malta had been arguing that a Security Agreement (Security of documents agreement) signed before Malta joined the PfP for the first time in 1996 should be used for Malta have access to those documents - even though Malta left PfP later that year. No one knew of this agreement because it was never ratified in Parliament, Dr Busuttil said.

Dr Busuttil said the government's argument that it did not go before parliament did not hold water. Once the government was saying it was against Malta returning to PfP in 2004, there was nothing divisive in this issue and the two sides could have worked for a solution to the documents issue.

It appeared that the proposal to use the old Security Agreement was first proposed - and then discounted - by the US and the Wikileaks cable even said that Mr Cachia Caruana was awaiting 'guidance' from Washington despite what Mr Cachia Caruana was now saying.

It was clear that Mr Cachia Caruana knew things which the prime minister himself did not know at the time. And then, in order not to make a bad situation worse, Mr Cachia Caruana claimed he had not known that Malta would rejoin PfP as soon as the 2008 general election were past, even though Dr Gonzi had even told the US ambassador of his intentions.

If nothing else, this motion showed how under this government repeatedly acted behind Parliament's back, another case being when ministerial pay was raised in secret.

THROWBACK TO COLD WAR POLITICS

Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said this motion was Labour's throw-back to cold war politics.

Labour had been staunchly against PfP membership and up to some time ago Labour had been saying that PfP membership violated Malta's constitution. Although Labour was now claiming that it had now changed its position, it seemed that some had not. For example, Charles Mangion after the 2008 general election declared that Malta should stay out of PfP.

Foreign Minister Tonio BorgForeign Minister Tonio Borg

Even Joseph Muscat, on 18 May 2008 - when not yet PL leader - said he disagreed with PfP membership.

This motion, Dr Borg said, was a smokescreen to hide Labour's own u-turn on PfP, one of several u-turns which the party was making.

This motion was announced in September last year, when it was also revealed, through another Wikileak cable, that Joseph Muscat had a meeting with the US ambassador where they said that they had concluded that PfP did not contravene the constitution. That meeting was held in 2009 but it was not revealed until the document was revealed by Wikileaks.

Dr Borg spoke at length on how the Opposition's motion was debated in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and criticised the Opposition for relying on a document written by a US official who himself was not present to the 2004 meetings which the document referred to, when minutes of the same meetings were also held by Maltese officials.

He said that those meetings were only focused on how Malta could gain access to EU-Nato security documents without having to rejoin Partnership for Peace.

Dr Borg said Mr Cachia Caruana was acting within instructions of the government and the Wikileaks cable did not show that he was trying to circumvent Parliament.

Dr Borg said the issue of access to the security documents could not be taken to parliament because the issue was ongoing. No government made public any  talks which it was holding with another government. Agreements were only taken to parliament once they were signed, if they required ratification.

Dr Borg said this Opposition motion was dangerous because the Opposition was holding a civil servant accountable whereas, to date, it had always been the minister who was ultimately responsible for the actions of the people in his departments. This move was dangerous for the Civil Service and could lead to a situation where civil servants were scared of giving advice lest they were criticised by the politicians.

Labour MP Owen Bonnici insisted that the Framework Document for PfP membership should have been presented for parliamentary ratification in 1995 because the invitation for membership was  issued and signed by the heads of state and government of the PfP member states.

Dr Owen BonniciDr Owen Bonnici

A wrong method was adopted once more in 2008, when, as soon as it won the general election, the government took Malta back to PfP without consulting the Opposition, without public debate, and without going before Parliament.

In this issue, Dr Bonnici said, the prime minister and his ministers violated the ministerial code of conduct which said that they had a duty to give account of their actions to parliamrnt, its committees and the public. As had been shown, the US ambassador was informed of Malta's return to PfP several months previously, and well before the Maltese people were informed.

NO EVIDENCE AGAINST CACHIA CARUANA

Dr Francis Zammit Dimech said the Opposition should have the decency to withdraw this motion because no evidence had been presented to back any alleged wrongdoing by Ambassador Cachia Caruana.

Had the Opposition made its claims against Mr Cachia Caruana outside the House, it could have been sued for slander.

It was the opposition which was being unethical, making accusations which it did not substantiate and resorting to political opportunism.

Lino Spiteri had been among those who described this motion as a waste of time which had seen MPs asking irrelevant questions such as how much Mr Cachia Caruana was paid.

Why had this motion presented now, so many years after the 2004 meetings it refered to. And why did the opposition wait seven months after Wikileaks published its document? The reason, obviously, was because of declarations made against Mr Cachia Caruana by a government MP.

The Opposition was only working to trip the government. This was the worst of old Labour, Dr Zammit Dimech said. The people would judge the Opposition over how it dealt with civil servants such as Mr Cachia Caruana, without a shred of evidence, and over its views on Partnership for Peace.

Dr Zammit Dimech said Labour MP George Vella had based his argument on whether or not the government should have gone before parliament on the advice of the Attorney General, and then the AG said the PfP framework agreement did not fall within the Ratification of Treaties Act.

Leo Brincat (PL) said the government had been reluctant to give details on Mr Cachia Caruana's pay packet during the committee meetings. Maybe that was because Mr Cachia Caruana had a terminal benefit and transitional facility in the same way as ministers.

Leo BrincatLeo Brincat

It appeared that Mr Cachia Caruana's pay was as disproportionate as his powers. Mr Cachia Caruana was the power behind the throne and since he was paid out of public funds, his compensation should be revealed, otherwise the people would be right in arguing that he had something to hide.

Mr Cachia Caruana had acted like Zeus in the committee meetings but he appeared to be ill at ease. He was informed that he was even given training ahead of the meetings.

This issue, Mr Brincat said, was about parliamentary democracy. The opposition was not respected during the hearings and the information it sought was not given in full.

Mr Brincat said Mr Cachia Caruana could not be believed when he said that he had not known that Malta would join PfP immediately after the last general election. What he most likely knew was that had this intention been made public, it could have had an impact on the general election.

Mr Cachia Caruana also showed disrespect to Parliament by only meeting the Foreign Affairs Committee three times in four years when meetings were supposed to be held every six months.

Mr Brincat said PfP was a non issue for the PL. However a document published by Wikileaks on 10 November 2004 showed how the US government knew of Mr Cachia Caruana's proposal on the use of the PfP Security Agreement, even before the Maltese government. What would have happened if the Maltese government rejected that proposal? This would have been a national embarrassment. Mr Cachia Caruana wrote to the prime minister on November 9, 2004 but did not take a decision until three days later. Clearly Mr Cachia Caruana had sidelined not only parliament, but also the government.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat, who spoke after Dr Pullicino Orlando, said the Opposition stood by its motion because Mr Cachia Caruana had acted behind Parliament's back. The Opposition had been cautious and sought information and it as now convinced more than ever before that the motion should have been presented tot he House.

PM - POLITCS, BLOODY POLITICS

Prime  Minister Lawrence Gonzi said this motion was an injustice. The Opposition was demanding Mr Cachia Caruana's resignation for reasons which were very different from, say, his influence in the media. The evidence presented by the Opposition did not back what was alleged in the motion.

He was inclined to believe what Lino Spiteri recently wrote in The Times: Politics, bloody politics, Dr Gonzi said.

He stressed that Mr Cachia Caruana had always followed the government's instructions. If anyone should have been targeted, it should have been himself, because he was politically responsible, Dr Gonzi said.

It was shameful that the Opposition had claimed in its motion that Mr Cachia Caruana sought the interests of other countries more than Malta's. He always acted as directed by the government.

The prime minister said the Opposition was showing itself to be grossly incompetent in the way it had interpreted the Wikileaks Cable. But, after all, this was not about what was in the cable because its contents were not proven.

This was politics, bloody politics.

Dr Gonzi said the Opposition's actions were harmful to the country. Malta's parliament, the ultimate democratic instrument, had been used for unjustified attacks at a person who could not defend itself. What was taking place was shameful. A person accused in court of rape had more rights that a civil servant when faced with serious accusations. The Opposition had nothing to back its claims, and yet it was the civil servant who had to prove he was innocent.

Concluding Dr Gonzi asked MPs to consider that Parliament should be used in such an unjustified attack against a civil servant who had done his duty? Were they on the side of truth? Dr Gonzi said he had no doubt to declare that he would vote firmly against this motion.

Dr George VellaDr George Vella

Winding up, Labour MP George Vella denied that this was a case of political opportunism. GoniPN, he said, did not have a monopoly over the truth. This motion was about parliamentary accountability and scrutiny and it was a Nationalist MP himself who had spoken of how Mr Cachia Caruana sidelined parliamentary norms.

Mr Cachia Caruana was not some anonymous civil servant but a person who thought he was untouchable. He was a person who was feared by ministers and who used journalists for his own attacks. It was no wonder that the government was mounting a strong defence for Mr Cachia Caruana. What a contrast with John Dalli. This was a person who was arrogant and looked down on the members of the opposition.

Mr Cachia Caruana claimed to be acting on instructions from the government, but in many cases it was the prime minister who was obliged to follow his instructions.

In his speech Dr Vella criticised Mr Cachia Caruana for not holding regular meetings with parliament and for making proposals and commitments to foreigners before they were made to the government or to parliament. And then Wikileaks also revealed that Mr Cachia Caruana was 'awaiting Washington's guidance on the matter' and that 'Washington was still encouraging him to proceed with his plan of action.

The Opposition, Dr Vella said, was not stupid and knew how to read English.

It was clear that Mr Cachia Caruana was the originator, proponent and executioner of a plan to take Malta back in PfP in 2004 behind parliament's back.

A civil servant - however politically powerful - should not decide national policy, more so on foreign and security matters, Dr Vella said.

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