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Panama Papers: Government wins confidence vote but Muscat says doing nothing is not an option

Evarist Bartolo: Politicians should lead by example; Marlene Farrugia to present no confidence motion in Konrad Mizzi

The government this evening comfortably won a confidence vote after an Opposition motion of no confidence was defeated.

The 38-31 vote took place at 10pm after a 13-hour debate characterised by monologues in which most MPs read prepared speeches.

The voting was along party lines, with independent MPs Marlene Farrugia and Giovanna Debono voting with the opposition. Dr Farrugia said she would move her own motion of no confidence in Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi. (The PN later said it would support her.)

The Opposition no-confidence motion was moved in the wake of the revelations in the Panama Papers. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici moved the government's amendment turning the motion into a vote of confidence.

During the debate, Dr  Mizzi stuck to his position and arguments, insisting he had done nothing wrong and he had been subject to a "trial by media" over his Panama company and New Zealand trust.

But Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said doing things legally was not enough and MPs had to lead by example and political correctness.

The prime minister agreed, saying that doing nothing was not an option.

In his speech, a defiant Dr Mizzi said that investigations would prove that he had done nothing wrong, but he admitted that deciding to open a company in Panama "wasn't the best choice".

"I regret that the Panama Papers distracted from the government's successes, Dr Mizzi said. 

"I declared the trust and Panama company at the first opportunity,"  he said with reference is to his declaration of assets, presented to the prime minister.

"I have always been consistent in my story because it is the truth."

The trust, he said, was now a public document. The beneficiaries were his wife and children. "If I had bad intentions I would have done things in a different way."

Dr Mizzi said the international consortium of journalists who revealed the Panama Papers had been fair to him.. "They said that the companies had no money and no bank accounts." 

"I assure you I told the whole truth", he said, adding that there was nothing underhand for anyone to find. Indeed, he had done something unprecedented in Maltese political history, he had opened his financial  affairs up to broad scrutiny. 

"All I ask is that we don't entertain a trial by media," he told his parliamentary colleagues. "Let's wait for investigations to reveal the facts."  

DEBATE'S OPENING

The debate was opened by Beppe Fenech Adami (PN) who said that the way how the Panama Papers had listed minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri had shamed the country, but the prime minister's inaction about them was even worst and raised questions about him as well.

GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici moved an amendment to express confidence in the government on the basis of its achievements. He insisted there is no crisis of corruption in Malta. The decisions on the Panama companies may have been technical and legally correct, but not necessarily politically wise and ideal, he said, and the prime minister has declared he will take decisions on the basis of facts.

THE DEBATE STEP BY STEP

9.05 pm Opposition leader Simon Busuttil quoted what a farmer told him in Qrendi yesterday - that the government was sinking in birdseed - meaning that it could not recover because it had lost the people's trust.

The government was in a crisis of corruption that went back even before the election and came from the top. Something came up every day. Yesterday The Sunday Times reported on the front page that a Whistleblower was awarded €1m in government contracts. On the backpage one ready how a contractor sought a bribe. The Independent reported how the power station deal was riddled with conflicts of interest.

It was a disgrace how instructions were issued for Konrad Mizzi's Panama company to be set up just five days after the general election. Other scandals were well known, such as the case of Australia Hall which had seen the prime minister award the Labour Party €10m in property. And then the prime minister criticised the PN over its loan scheme.   

Other scandals were how Zonqor was handed over after a one minute meeting with the prime minister; the Gaffarena expropriation case and the meetings in Azerbaijan without the presence of civil servants and media. 

dr Busuttil said this was not what the people voted for. That the goings on had started before the general election was revealed by Speaker Anglu Farrugia himself when he spoke of meetings between contractors and Dr Muscat. 

Gaffarena was given a permit for his illegal petrol station immediately after the election, and the prime minister had also met the Cafe Premier owner before and after the election, and authorised a €4m payment.

NEW POWER STATION WAS PLANNED BEFORE THE GENERAL ELECTION

It was also clear that the building of a new power station was also planned before the general election. The exact same proposal had been made to the PN, but it was rejected, as the PN had based a reduction on tariffs on the interconnector. 

All this stemmed from the top, where Keith Schembri was the man behind the prime minister and Konrad Mizzi was the most powerful minister. 

This scandal now left people wondering if, when they met the prime minister, they might also need a brokerage with Keith Mizzi, or use the same financial company.

The government, Dr Busuttil said, was in a state of denial. Dr Mizzi was not in the Chamber, and in his speech had not even apologised. Dr Muscat had not spoken about Panama in his speech.

But in 2012 Konrad Mizzi told Times of Malta: "We will have the highest standards in Europe. If one of Muscat's ministers acts improperly, he would be out the next day." But Eight wweks after the Panama scandal broke, he was still there

"Walk the talk, Dr Mizzi," Dr Busuttil said.  

The Panama scandal was the symptom of a bigger malaise, which was the prime minister's 'anything goes' culture, Dr Busuttil said. 

It was incredible that the police in Panama, Brazil and even in El Salvador held investigations. In Malta the police were doing nothing.What did that say about the police or the country?

It was obvious to everyone that it was wrong for a minister to set up a secret company and that there was a lie somewhere. When Konrad Mizzi tried to open a bank account he did not say he wanted to transfer his properties to the trust but spoke of brokerage services.  That meant corruption, and the banks, even in Panama showed more seriousness than the minister and Keith Schembri and refused them accounts.

Then Konrad Mizzi said funds would come from waste recycling in India. Could anyone believe him?

Konrad Mizzi had claimed that he declared everything immediately. But he actually had not. The first declaration should have been made to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue.

The Panama Papers mentioned three companies, one for Konrad Mizzi, one for Keith Schembri, but whose was the other one? Did the prime minister know? He had not replied but showed that he knew by warning journalists of libel.

Concluding, Dr Busuttil said the no confidence motion was likely to be defeated because for the Labour MPs, the government came before the country. He understood that some were making good money because Joseph Muscat put them in good posts to gag them. Turkeys did not vote for Christmas. He, however, would continue to appeal to their integrity.  

Ultimately the people would judge, Dr Busuttil said. Truth would prevail because the government was losing the battle for the people's hearts and minds.

9pm Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said Opposition remarks on good governance would be believed when the PN did what it preached and when, for example, it did not rent a crowd to put pressure on a magistrate before a court case. 

8.54 Godfrey Farrugia (PL) said Malta needed the Labour government because of the economic and social progress which it was bringing about. It would also be good, however, if all politicians worked on promoting public morality

8.20 Mario de Marco (PN) said he agreed with points raised by Manuel Mallia. The people wanted a new style of politics which attracted the best people to politics.

He said a country could have the strongest economy, but that was not enough if a government was not accountable and transparent and when a government protected people faced with serious accusations. The prime minister in his address spoke on everything and everyone but not on the Panama case. Many people's jobs depended on the country's good reputation. The opposition motion was therefore motivated by the national interest because people of different political hues were angered by what had happened. 

What legitimate reason did a serving minister have to open a company in Panama and a trust in New Zealand? No excuses given so far held water. Why had Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri tried to open bank accounts in nine countries?

This was not a legal argument over whether there was corruption. This was an issue of political responsibility. Was it politically acceptable for a minister and a chief of staff to be found doing such things? Clearly it was not. The prime minister had still done nothing and the purpose of the motion was to prompt him to act. 

What would result from the audit was not important because the issue was that it was unacceptable for a minister to set up a secret company in a jurisdiction such as Panama. The audit should not be used as an excuse to retain Konrad Mizzi.

Rather than remove Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat chose to launch attacks on a number of people including himself.

"Throughout my life I always paid all the bills, I always insisting on paying for all the things I acquired, I do not need favours from anyone, I have kept all invoices and receipts, no one will shame me, Dr de Marco said. 

8.05 Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech said the government intended to serve out its term. This no confidence motion was an example of political opportunism with scant consideration for the national interest.

He said the Panama case had ramifications and he agreed with the prime minister that doing nothing was not an option. Governance issues, tax evasion and money laundering issues would also be tackled more forcefully and there would be a register of companies involved in corruption and a register of trusts abroad.

8pm  Gozo Minister Anton Refalo said he would vote in favour of the government and for minister Konrad Mizzi, who was bringing Barts Medical School to Gozo. This government, he said, had a proud record in Gozo, where the economy and job creation were growing fast. And just in January, tourist visitors grew by 37 per cent. 

7.50 Manuel Mallia (PL) spoke on how conjecture destroyed many a politician's career and persuaded many other worthy people from seeking a political career. This was a loss for the country. 

Politicians who unjustly threw mud at others also undermined public confidence in politicians as a whole. Parliament's time, therefore, should not be wasted and politicians should seek to regain public confidence in themselves and in the institutions. More importantly, they should not harm the country and lose what it had already gained.

FINANCE MINISTERS SEES RATINGS UPGRADE SOON

7.40 Finance Minister Edward Scicluna spoke about how Budget measures were working, with a drop in the poverty rate, strong economic growth and strong job creation. He said he got the feeling that Malta could soon be in line for a ratings upgrade, enabling it to play in a new league.

The minister, however, underlined the importance of stability. That was why the government should win the vote of confidence.

The Panama leaks, he said, were not the first leak of their nature. Malta as a small nation needed to argue strongly in the EU and OECD to ensure it retained its advantage as a financial jurisdiction while showing it was prepared to fight tax evasion by the multinationals. 

7.25 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said doing nothing was not an option for the government, but it would continue on its programme to change Malta for the better.

Dr Muscat said the Opposition's motion was the perfect opportunity given to the government to speak about its achievement.

This motion of no confidence, he said, showed the confusion of the Opposition, which despite presenting the motion, said it did not want to bring down the government.

Indeed this confusion in the opposition was seen several times in the past three years when it did not take a position on several fronts. That was the easiest thing to do, but it got no results.

Dr Muscat briefly referred to the PN's borrowing scheme, announced last month, describing it as cedoli tal-korruzjoni. Would the PN publish the names of those who loaned it money?

Dr Muscat said the government clearly needed to work hard on governance issues. But it was not something which the former government could be proud of either, not having published the Arriva contract and having delayed publication of the BWSC deal.

The present government would publish all its main contracts by the end of this year, showing it did not fear transparency.

The leader of the opposition, Dr Muscat said, repeatedly showed misjudgment. That was revealed in the way he dealt with the Gozo whistleblower when he met him.

Now he was showing he did not have the courage to deal with Mario de Marco after the latest revelations about him.

Lawrence Gonzi said once that whoever did not fight corruption was corrupt. Dr Busuttil had long worked in the PN but never did anything about corruption, one case being on oil procurement.

The present government removed prescription on corruption cases, introduced whistleblower protection and the party funding law.

The government could learn no lessons from the Opposition - Tonio Fenech's former secretary had spoken of bribes, Claudio Grech negotiated with SmartCity, then left the government to become its CEO.

On Panama, Dr Muscat said he agreed with Evarist Bartolo that it was not enough to do things legally but one had to have political correctness and lead by example.

Matters had to be done not only legally, but correctly. For the government, even in this case, doing nothing was not an option.

The government accepted the opposition's scrutiny but it would continue to work to change Malta, Dr Muscat said.

6.57pm Economy Minister Charles Cardona early in his address said PN leader Simon Busuttil had wanted to have Mario de Marco and Beppe Fenech Adami removed.

Intervening, Dr Busuttil said he could assure him that what he was saying was a lie from beginning to end.  

Continuing, Dr Cardona said this showed that the Opposition leader was happy with his deputies. He said this vote of no confidence was an attack on the government as a whole, despite its success on all fronts. As an example, since 2013, 98 foreign investment projects had been approved with a total of €272 million in foreign direct investment, three times what the PN attracted in the whole of its last term. This was a vote of confidence in itself.

MARLENE FARRUGIA - LABOUR HAS BEEN HIJACKED

6.08 Marlene Farrugia (Ind) said the Panama case had put doubts into the people's mind about everything that the government was doing. The good it had done was being hidden by the fact that somebody felt he could hijack the Labour Party and deceive its supporters. The electoral programme was based on accountability, transparency and meritocracy. Some people in the Cabinet thought they could deceive. But there were people in the Labour Party who had made sacrifices to elect a government that was sincere.

Some thought there was nothing wrong in setting up a Panama company while serving as minister or chief of staff. The people thought otherwise. A man who sought a certain service...could not say he went there for a coffee, she said, recounting what a supporter had told her.

The Panama case was the latest shock from Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi. First he sold a third of Enemalta, deceiving the workers at Enemalta, denying them their work and dignity. No contracts were ever published.

Then he slipped up on the building of a new power station.

True he reduced electricity tariffs by 25%, but the international price of oil had dropped by 75%. So could the people be satisfied?

Dr Farrugia said the Labour Party needed to clean itself up so that by the end of the legislature, Malta could also truly be taghna lkoll

She said she would be moving a separate motion of no confidence motion in Konrad Mizzi.

MINISTER NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE

Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg, who was the first Opposition speaker after Konrad Mizzi, (see above)  said the address showed how the minister was not fit for purpose.

"He did not apologise for his actions, what he regretted was that the people are talking about him, not about the government's achievements" she said.

The minister, she said, had spoken out only because he had been found out.

She said the minister's address had kicked up a storm of indignation, with her phone having 'exploded' with SMSs.

"He should not continue to deceive and insult the people, he should not continue to dig the hole he is in," Ms Buttigieg said.

In her address Ms Buttigieg spoke on the PN's governance document including greater transparency in declarations of assets, publication of contracts and guidelines on meetings with lobbyists. She said the PN was showing how it was preparing itself to be the alternative government.

She asked if, at the height of the Easter holidays, an agreement was quietly signed for the transfer of land around Gozo hospital. This government, she said never learnt are continued to act hush hush.

Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg, who was the first Opposition speaker after Dr Mizzi, said the address showed how the minister was not fit for purpose.

"He did not apologise for his actions, what he regretted was that the people are talking about him, not about the government's achievements" she said.

The minister, she said, had spoken out only because he had been found out.

She said the minister's address had kicked up a storm of indignation, with her phone having 'exploded' with SMSs.

"He should not continue to deceive and insult the people, he should not continue to dig the hole he is in," Ms Buttigieg said.

In her address Ms Buttigieg spoke on the PN's governance document including greater transparency in declarations of assets, publication of contracts and guidelines on meetings with lobbyists. She said the PN was showing how it was preparing itself to be the alternative government.

She asked if, at the height of the Easter holidays, an agreement was quietly signed for the transfer of land around Gozo hospital. This government, she said never learnt are continued to act hush hush.

6.00 Environment Minister Leo Brincat said the opposition's no confidence motion showed no vision and bore no benefit for Malta. Its only purpose was to remove the prime minister before he had even pronounced himself on the case which everyone was talking about.Since when did the opposition decide who the prime minister should be? He praised Dr Muscat for having insisted that he would take his decisions on the basis of facts, not perception.

5.50 Social Welfare Minister Michael Farrugia said other countries were envious for the way how Malta under the present government had grown the economy, improved living standards and had not raised taxes. The opposition, he said, were giving the perception that there was corruption, but they proved nothing.

5.30 Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli said the government was proud of its work because the people was seeing the results. She underlined the reforms made in civil rights, saying they were achieved despite obstruction by the Opposition.

5.15 Franco Mercieca (PL) also highlighted various areas of progress under the present government, saying the progress made by society merited continued support. Decisions, he said, were taken on the basis of facts, not opinion polls.

Dr Said was followed by Konrad Mizzi and Claudette Buttigieg, whose comments are being reported above.

4.30: Chris Said (PN) said it was surreal that none of the government speakers spoke about the Panama scandal after seven hours of debate. It was surreal that the prime minister continued to ignore the untold damage that Malta was suffering. Instead of tackling the scandal, the government was desperately attacking Simon Busuttil, Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco. The government might win the vote of no confidence, but it would be a "pyrrhic victory".

4.25: Michael Falzon (PL) said the Maltese were among the most optimistic in the EU because of the government's achievements in a number of sectors, especially employment. 

4.17 Clyde Puli (PN) said it was a disgrace that the PN was criticised for blowing the whistle on the Panama abuses instead of criticizing those involved in abuse. It was like criticising a policeman who caught a thief, not the thief itself. The people were speaking about the Panama scandal and it was a disgrace that Labour MPs were not. He was under no illusion that the Opposition would lose the vote this evening, he said, but that would not reflect what society was thinking. The government needed to act before people's jobs were undermined. 

4.13  Joe Farrugia (PL) also listed government achievements which he said justified the government to continue on its course. He would therefore continue to back it. 

4.00 Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said that politicians had to lead by example and political correctness because it was very easy to lose hard-earned public support. Doing things legally was not enough.

In his address Mr Bartolo never mentioned Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi or chief of staff Keith Schembri.

At the beginning of his address he spoke on how people had welcomed various government initiatives in education, childcare, civil rights, persons with disability, among others.

The PL, he said, had values and principles which made society more humane, where there was equality and social justice. At a time of international austerity, this government grew the economy and thus wealth.

Now was the time for an examination of conscience, to gauge successes and mistakes. It was important to win the majority in parliament, but it was more important to win the confidence of the people. Legality was important, but political correctness was just as important.

A lack of confidence in politicians was a threat to democracy. If one did not want to render politics into a mud wrestling contest, everyone should carry out this examination of conscience, both the government and the opposition.

Former Soviet Leader Gorbechev used to ask who political adversaries were - those on the other side or the country's problems? The real adversaries were the country's problems.

To lose the sense of proportion was the worst thing, when one thought that the worst problem was the political adversary not the country's problems.
That, Mr Bartolo said, was what had happened to the PN, which blamed the government for everything. This would cost it credibility and it showed double standards.

How could one be against hiding money in Panama but not in Malta? How could one vote for a party funding law, and they bypass it?
Public morality was such was that it rejected corruption, from wherever it came and not from one side only. Young people needed to be taught not only how to make money, but also what was right and wrong.

Mr Bartolo said it was good to have good policies, but politicians had to lead by example, It was very easy to lose pubic confidence which one would have worked hard to achieve and it was everyone's responsibility to not only promote their programme but lead by example.

3.46 - Robert Arrigo (PN) recalled that under the former government he had spoken about how the then government had a slow puncture. Now the present government had four punctures and the engine had fallen out. The problem was that the prime minister was a salesman not a mechanic. He did not know how this problem would be solved. But action was needed as activity had stopped because of this uncertainty.

 

Labour had a right to stay in office, but it needed to take a hard look at itself so that Malta could resume the way forward. The Panama Papers had put Malta's reputation at risk. Politicians had to lead by example. Behind a good salesman there should be a good after-sales service. But that was not what the people were seeing.  

3.40 Joe Debono Grech (PL) said the PN MPs mentioned Australia Hall but no one spoke on how the PN built its first headquarters or the corruption in the building of Gozo hospital and Mgarr harbour in the 1960s. Why was this vote of no confidence, for lifting the country from the bottom, for solving the out of stock medicines issue, for easing hospital waiting time? This made him recall how after the 1971 general election George Borg Olivier was stabbed in the back and the PN started on a campaign of destabiliation including civil disobedience,  a bus strike, a run on the banks etc. But the people would not forget. Under the Nationalists, there was a village in Gozo where only one person, the parish priest, paid social security. That was corruption too. 

3.30 Paula Mifsud Bonnici (PN) said that it was an injustice that the prime minister, instead of springing to the defence of those in need, was defending those close to him found to have set up a secret company in Panama. Then people lost their social benefits without being questioned after allegations about them - although she was not condoning benefit fraud.

Social justice had gone overboard.

3.18 Charles Mangion (PL) hit out the Opposition for continuing to be negative, mentioning its continued criticism of the revamp of Enemalta, the passport scheme which is raking in millions for the country, the public-private partnership for St Luke's Hospital and the new university. Such developments were contributing to fast economic growth, the biggest in the EU, which meant more revenue, more wealth, more jobs without more tax. He said that given this growth a system had to be devised for the importation of workers.

3.09 Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri said this debate was an opportunity for the government to showcase its work. She spoke on the work done by the government in the area of the Planning Authority and the Property Division highlighting a reduction in tariffs, the publication of SPED.

She said work is in progress on a review of policies for Mriehel and Paceville, retirement homes, outside tables and chairs and the local plans, and the new billboards regulations would also be fleshed out. A new authority was being set up instead of the Lands Department to ensure there was more transparency and accountability. 

2.57 Kristy Debono (PN) said it was the government itself which was creating instability and hindering investment by not having acted over the Panama scandal. It was useless blaming the PN for it. The country deserved better. The sooner this damage caused to Malta was stopped, the better and the damage that was caused to the financial and gaming industries needed to be assessed so that it could be rectified. This was not the people voted for at the last general election. 

2.47 Parliamentary Secretary Justyne Caruana spoke on developments made for care of the elderly and persons with disability. She said services had been improved across the board and more beds were available in care centres and night shelters. She said she had spoken about the government's achievements because the Opposition motion was a motion against the people. 

2.38 Toni Bezzina (PN) said the dithering by the prime minister showed that he was not realising how harmful this Panama issue is for Malta. It was fell known that secret companies similar to that set up by Konrad Mizzi were used to hide money. Therefore the people's concerns were justified. He insisted that winning a general election did not mean a winner takes all. Laws and regulations continued to apply to everyone, including Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.  

2.30 Deo Debattista (PL) said the no-confidence motion would be defeated not because of the government majority, but because of logic. The opposition had no solutions and ideas and was only calling for resignations.

The prime minister would solve this issue like it solved others, such as out of stock medicines, high power tariffs and a mountain of debt at Enemalta. The former government's solutions had only been to raise power tariffs and sell Enemalta for €1. Now the PN had a debt of €22m and its solution was to borrow more.

MPs this evening would therefore vote for wealth, the economy and in order not to push back the clock by three years. 

2.19 Claudio Grech (PN) regretted that this issue had become the stuff of tribal politics. The debate had to be built on substance. There was no doubt that Malta was going through a difficult period because of the Panama case and the reputation of the financial services centre had been hurt. The government, he said, should embrace transparency because its absence was making concerns about the Panama companies run deeper. Examples of these concerns were the unpublished agreements on the sale of a third of Enemalta, the sale of former Enemalta properties, the sale of the BWSC plant and the energy procurement deal for the interconnector, the power purchase agreement with Electrogas, and the transfer of MOBC.  Why this secrecy? 

2.13 Joseph Sammut (PL) said the oft repeated claims of 'scandal' was a throwback of what used to take back in the 1980s. The prime minister was correct to await the facts before taking decisions. The setting up of trusts had nothing to do with secret accounts and this was a financial tool used by many abroad, especially for estate management and to avoid conflicts of interest. 

2.00 Robert Cutajar (PN) said the people were realising how they were being deceived by the government. Thousands of people including genuine labourites fell their confidence had been betrayed. The people, he said, want to live a normal life, but it was only business as usual for those who were making money from the government. He focused his address on the Cafe' Premiere scandal, saying the €4.2m wasted here could have been used to improve the allowance of people with disabilities. 

1.50 Etienne Grech (PL) said that Malta now had stability in energy prices and prices had gone down 10 times. This no confidence vote was a strategic mistake, not unlike the vote of no confidence made against Winston Churchill in wartime. The government, he said, was stable and as strong as concrete - not the type used at Mater Dei. The Panama Papers, he said, had not revealed anything that was not known. What would Simon Busuttil do about free work done in a property owned by Mario de Marco by a contractor mentioned in the Panama Papers?

1.14 Marthese Portelli (PN) recalled how the Audit Office in March last year expressed reservations over how decisions on an oil hedging deal with Socar of Azerbaijan was taken, how the decision was taken after intervention by Konrad Mizzi, and how documentation was lacking.

Why was this information incomplete? Why had the government not given the NAO the information it sought? The bottom line was that Malta lost €14 million from this deal. And this was only one deal that the people knew about. Many other hedging agreements had not been published. Why were they hidden? Had anyone benefited in some way?.

Meanwhile, petrol and diesel prices in Malta were higher than the EU average. Petrol was also 17 per cent higher than in Luxembourg, with which the prime minister made comparisons in the past. Diesel was 27% dearer. 

1.37 Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius spoke about the sports sector, saying, among other things, that two sites are being considered for possible transformation into a class shooting range that can host the world championship.

1.18 Jason Azzopardi (PN) drew contrasts between promises of transparency and secret meetings by Joseph Muscat, among others. He said the cases which were coming to light now were not the result of mistakes, but a mentality of corruption. The Nationalist MP focuses on the Gaffarena scandal and how the government had dealt with Mark Gaffarena and not the other co-owners of the same property. That scandal cost the country €3.5m. Significantly then Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon had said at the time he was bearing somebody else's cross. Who was this?

That a senior minister and a senior government official were being defended by the prime minister after setting up a secret company in Panama was discouraging and demoralising all those who worked dutifully for the country, Dr Azzopardi said. This case had the potential of giving potential investors cold feet. Clearly, he said, the prime minister should not continue to insult the people's intelligence.   

1.12 Silvio Parnis (PL) asked why the PN wanted to remove the government, Was it because of free childcare, the closure of Marsa power station, the lowest ever unemployment, increased pensions, civil unions, the Cospicua project, the new university, the NGO hub,the IVF service and so much more? Where was the bailout that Simon Busuttil had spoken about?

1.06 Charlo' Bonnici (PN) said the no confidence motion was the only option the Opposition had because the government had failed to act over the Panama Papers. To focus only on Konrad Mizzi would have meant ignoring the fact that the prime minister had done nothing about this scandal. But this was not the only government scandal. For example, what did Sai Mizzi have to show for the €500,000 paid to her so far? 

12.52 Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said one did not know whether to laugh or cry when he heard former ministers speak of scandals and corruption. It was good that people were speaking about governance, since the government had tackled the bread and butter issues.

But the motivation of the PN motion was not stability or honesty, but the interests of the party. Using the PN yardstick, it was the leader of the opposition who should be removed, for coming up with a party loans scheme which could give grounds for corruption and money laundering. 

The reaction to the Panama Papers in Malta was out of proportion, given that there was no mention of transfer of funds. But the interests of the PN were to hinder Malta.

12.42 Ryan Callus (PN) said the government was seeking absolute power in various sectors, such as planning. He hit out at goings on in the Planning Authority, saying its executive was not dissimilar to a Labour club. That was the explanation for what had happened over Zonqor and the way how billboards regulations had been issued without consultation but the government was now having to backpedal after a storm of protest by shopowners whose shop signs were also affected. .  

12.30 Charles Buhagiar (PL) said government MPs were speaking on government activity in general because this was a motion of no confidence in the government as a whole. He highlighted economic growth, a sharp growth in the gainfully occupied population, a drop in unemployment, and new government services, including free childcare. Over the past three years, he said, the property sector had boomed, because of economic growth and the large number of foreign workers who came here.

12.22 Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes said that despite the mid-term blues, Joseph Muscat enjoyed a higher confidence rating than the leader of the opposition. Konrad Mizzi, he said, had not done anything illegal and declared his holdings. Dr Mizzi may have taken a naive decision but the Opposition had based its criticism on suppositions and allegations. What would happen when the audit did not reveal any wrongdoing? The PN was ready to sell its soul for political opportunism.

12.09 Francis Zammit Dimech noted that it had just been revealed that the number of banks approached on behalf of Konrad Schembri and Keith Schembri in their efforts to open an account had increased from seven to nine. He wondered how many of Labour's MPs really believed the explanations given by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. He said the government's amendment to the no confidence motion was disappointing because even if the government was doing good work, it did not justify the opening of secret companies and accounts abroad.  

1200 Anthony Agius Decelis says Malta needs Joseph Muscat to stay on as prime minister. He then goes on to make comparisons between this and the previous governments including fuel pricing, electricity costs, poverty, economic growth, hospital waiting lists, medicines out of stock and other sectors. "Judge us on the good work we are doing, and the best is yet to come."

11.57 Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Buontempo says that rather than trying to bring down the government, it would be better for the PN to outline its plans if ever it was returned to government. The present government has a proud record and it is determined to continue to work to make Malta better. 

11.53 Michael Gonzi (PN) said the government had everything going for it, including a recovering world economy, but it had bungled it. Those who backed the government in tonight's vote would be accomplices in the Panama case and would all be shaming Malta.

11.48 Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne hits out at a return to the politics of division that were in evidence decades ago blaming the PN but also bloggers 'from both sides'.

He then spoke about progress in the health sector, saying, among other things, that works on a revamp of St Luke's Hospital started this week and there were grand plans for Mt Carmel Hospital. New health centres would be set up in Kirkop and Paola, a new maternity and children's hospital would be set up within Mater Dei Hospital and a pilot project for the distribution of medicines would soon take off. 

11.29 George Pullicino (PN) replying to Dr Herrera, says the  problem is not the PN's criticism but the government's actions and inaction.  There would have been a problem had the opposition not spoken up after what happened. He goes on to speak about energy policy, saying the power station promised within two years is still not ready, the BWSC plant is still using heavy fuel oil, and power tariffs only went down because of the interconnector and the fall in oil prices. On Panama, he says that Konrad Mizzi's claim that no funds were deposited in his Panama company was akin to building a swimming pool and expecting people to believe it would be kept empty. Questions had to be asked about how the power station deal was riddled with conflicts of interest, how property was sold to the Chinese investors and how a hedging agreement was made with Azerbaijan. 

11.22 Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera said mistakes had been made but the government deserved confidence.

The opposition was being excessively confrontational and aggressive. The government was legitimate and had a mandate to serve its term. The opposition's criticism lacked prudence and could harm the country. The people would judge that as well come election time.

11.17 Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg said the former government had failed to administer EU funds and had an absorption rate of just 30%, in contrast to the present government. The present government ensured that projects were completed on time, such as the works on forts St Angelo and St Elmo, the coast road and the Citadella in Gozo. If, by a miracle, the government was replaced after today’s no confidence motion, what would happen? The opposition was showing it has no ideas.

11.05 Tonio Fenech (PN): The opposition was criticising something that was fundamentally wrong, and yet it was being accused of being negative.   "What is wrong is wrong, plain and simple, and the prime minister, in failing to act, is being an accomplice." In Spain, he noted, a minister mentioned in the Panama Papers left quickly. In Malta, the prime minister needed to assume responsibility for the way his two most trusted men acted. He wondered how Finance Minister Edward Scicluna could effectively defend Malta's financial services sector while such people remained in their posts. 

10.57 Luciano Busuttil (PL) said 13 hours of debate were not enough to speak about the government's achievements. He then spoke about progress in the sports sector.

10.46 Karl Gouder (PN): The government should have acted even before the Panama affair made it to the media.The fundamental point at issue was that a minister handling major government contracts opened a secret company in Panama and tried desperately and unsuccessfully to open bank accounts abroad, undermining Malta's own financial services sector.  Had the prime minister truly not known what was going on, he would have dismissed Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. It was useless saying that an audit would be carried out. Secret companies were set up in jurisdictions such as Panama precisely because that made auditing impossible.

10.33 Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said the Opposition was using democracy in parliament to undermine democracy. In the past, the PN misled the people about public transport and it was still spreading false allegations about the current service. Yet the number of users was up 15% over last year.

10.27 Censu Galea (PN) says the Panama scandal has rocked many people's confidence in the government. Labour promised change from the past and good governance, but people of all shades are now saying the situation is worse and unprecedented. This does not apply only to the Panama scandal, but also the way people are promoted and the way contracts were awarded. 

10:10 Education Minister Evarist Bartolo has posted an interesting couple of thoughts to Facebook. 

Source: FacebookSource: Facebook

10.09 Foreign Minister George Vella: There could have been better political correctness in this case, but no corruption has been proved and the prime minister is therefore wise to hold off decisions to await the facts. This motion is therefore premature.

He will act on the basis of the national interest while also considering the record of those who are making the allegations, including the fact that they did not fight corruption when they could, and that they have given birth to a PN loan scheme which is a perfect opportunity for money laundering. Those who moved this motion do not have the national interest at heart but want to satisfy their lust for power.

He goes on to list achievements in the foreign affairs sector including CHOGM and the EU summit held in Malta last year. The opposition is trying to destabilise the government, as happened in the past. Who placed bombs in the past? (in the pre 1987 Labour government)

This present government has made mistakes, it will be more vigilant, but he will back it.

10.04: Antoine Borg (PN): The people can join the dots and see how people who set up secret companies and trusts were involved in some of the biggest government contracts. The damage to the country's reputation, particularly in financial services, has been done and the prime minister should shoulder his responsibilities. 

“Imagine how serious this country would have been seen had the government acted promptly when the Panama scandal became known.”

9.38: Justice Minister Owen Bonnici: The Opposition wants to dump the government and the good work it has done in three years. This is a negative, bitter Opposition which lacks ideas and needs to face up to the fact that its claims that Malta would fail under Labour have fallen flat.  

A country which is seeing a reduction in the poverty rate and an economic growth rate of 6.3% clearly clearly does not have a 'crisis of corruption' as the PN claimed. 

The decisions on the Panama companies may have been technical and legally correct, but not necessarily politically wise and ideal, and the prime minister has declared he will take decisions on the basis of facts.

But one also needs to discuss other facts, such as the works done in a property belonging to Mario de Marco where the PN deputy leader only requested the invoice after the contractor's name came up in the Panama case, in what reflected a major case of double standards.  One also needed to discuss how Beppe Fenech Adami built a 'palace' while saving a million euro, and these two PN deputy leaders are still in saddle.

Dr Bonnici proposes an amendment deleting most of the Opposition motion and expressing confidence in the government on the basis of economic progress and its various achievements including reducing unemployment and poverty, reducing power bills, eliminating out of stock medicines and hospital waiting times, improving civil rights, improving the bus service, easing immigration and improving stipends. 

9.08: Beppe Fenech Adami: This debate comes three years after Labour won the election promising accountability, transparency and a fight against corruption. All three promises have been broken. "Today we have a government trapped in the vice of corruption, a government that is impotent in t he face of corruption and the prime minister is doing nothing about it."

Corruption, he says , started in Castille. He recalls how the way the government gifted the Labour Party the €10m Australia Hall site. Then came the Cafe' Premier scandal, in which the prime minister was personally involved and should have resigned. Then came the Gaffarena case, also brewed in Castille. Those three cases showed how the people had been betrayed, Dr Fenech Adami said.

But the Panama scandal was the worst ever and involved the two persons closest to Joseph Muscat - minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri. The two never intended to reveal the companies they set up in Panama after they took office and only went public when they were found out. Panama was the filthiest county where to open a company and this case had shamed the country. The two then set up trusts across the world in New Zealand and attempted to open bank accounts, but were rejected. 

This should have been enough for the prime minister to dismiss the two, but rather than doing that, the prime minister was defending them and repeating the outright lies which they made in their attempt to justify the two companies. 

When the two attempted to open a bank account in Dubai, the reason given was that they wanted to deposit funds from consultancy and brokerage. How could a minister get money from such activities if there was no corruption?  

As a result the Panama papers showed the Maltese minister among the worst in the world.

"The prime minister had defended wrongdoing for seven weeks, it is an illogical defence which raises questions about Dr Muscat, who prided himself of taking decisions quickly....the prime minister has either lost his moral authority or the prime minister knows a lot about these two, and he knows that they know a lot about him...the country has paid enough for corruption...the time has come for the prime minister to go," Dr Fenech Adami said.  

9.06: Mario de Marco: The no confidence motion is moved by Mario de Marco, Deputy Leader of the Opposition on behalf of Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who is expected to conclude the debate with the winding-up address at 9.30pm.. 

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