PN leadership candidates take digs at each other in second debate

The first round of voting is on Saturday


The PN leadership candidates traded some barbs but mostly repeated statements in the second debate hosted this evening by the Nationalist Party ahead of the first round of the election on Saturday. 

Adrian Delia, the only candidate not previously fully involved in politics insisted on his being the new way for the PN, Alex Perici Calascione repeated how he would retain what was good in the party while not being afraid of change.

Chris Said underscored his 33 years of experience and his contact with society while Frank Portelli insisted Malta again needed to become the fior del mondo by returning to the trusted ways of the past rather than a new direction which was an unknown. 

The exchanges came at the end of the debate.

READ: Blogger allegations dominate first PN debate

At one time,  Dr Said said the PN should not be afraid of declaring its beliefs and what gave it its identity – personal dignity, integrity, the value of life, solidarity, and subsidiarity. 

Interjecting, Dr Portelli said there was no subsidiarity in the way how the first round of the elections would be for party councillors only, not all the party members. 

When the candidates were asked whether they would keep up Simon Busuttil’s fight against corruption, Dr Portelli, in a dig at Simon Busuttil, said institutions were not strengthened when a judge – Antonio Mizzi – was criticised in the newspapers

The PN has said that Mr Justice Mizzi should not hear appeals related to Panama Papers cases, given that he is married to a Labour Party MEP. The case is ongoing

In reply to other questions, Dr Portelli insisted that rights given to the gay community would be retained. But, he said, people had to be honest about their sexual orientation.

Later on, he said Malta needed to go back to its past values. The direction of the past was tough, maybe, but no one knew what the so called new direction held. What the country was seeing now was excessive liberalism, closing an eye to prostitution and drugs, with a mhux xorta [who cares] mentality. 

Inevitably, Dr Perici Calascione, outgoing PN treasurer, was asked about his role in the db Group donations controversy, and he insisted that the issue did not involve the party, but its media company. As a result he never met the officials of the db group and never reached any arrangement with them, he said.

During the debate Dr Delia stressed that the party could not change if it chose career politicians instead of people, like himself, with life experience. 

Dr Said later hit back, saying that he was a practising lawyer, not just a politician,  and he worked as a lawyer ‘for ordinary people not businessmen who splash out money.’ That was what put him in contact with the ordinary people, as well as his many years of experience as Mayor and councillor in Nadur.

PN 'needs to regain credibility'

In yet another apparent dig at Dr Delia and his failure to drop out after allegations about him, Dr Said said it was important for the PN to regain credibility, and he, when he was a minister, had immediately stepped aside when allegations were made about him, thus safeguarding the credibility of the party and the government.

READ: Delia says support for him grew in the wake of party pressure to step down

But Dr Said himself came into the crosshairs, from Frank Portelli, when he again said he wanted to promote solidarity and subsidiarity. Dr Portelli initially said those words were not uttered in the past, and Dr Said said he must not have been listening. 

Dr Portelli later retorted that no subsidiarity had been shown when ministers, including Dr Said, beefed up their salaries by €500 a week. 

The former minister said the money had been returned, but Dr Portelli said that only happened when the ministers were caught out. 

Dr Said also pointed out that as PN general secretary he served when the going was tough and few people came forward, and he did not get a penny despite being a full-time general secretary. 

Dr Portelli retorted that nothing had been achieved.

Dr Said said the party would win when it was strengthened. 

Castille 'the only' establishment

At the opening of the debate, the candidates were asked how the PN would become more relevant under their leadership.

Chris Said said the party’s agenda would not be dictated by ‘the only establishment’ in the country, that of Castille. His stress on 'only' appeared to be a reference to criticism by Dr Delia yesterday of the establishment within the PN. 

Frank Portelli said he would reach out to all party members and all members of society including those who had left the party. “The party must be close to the people in order to be relevant,” he said. 

Alex Perici Calascione said the party had not only to be relevant, but a determining factor in the life of the country. The PN had changed the course of the country’s history and raised the standard of living of the people, and his commitment was to retain what was positive in the PN while changing what needed to be changed. 

Adrian Delia said the PN would be outward looking and proud of its principles and beliefs as enshrined in the party anthem. 

'No comparison' between me and Mizzi - Delia

Dr Delia was asked how he would convince people that the allegations of financial impropriety made against him were not any different from those against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. 

He said there was no comparison. Dr Mizzi was a government minister whose actions had been revealed in the Panama papers and had rocked the country. The minister had set up a company in Panama purposely ‘for commissions,’ in what was a shameful action which demanded resignation, But for this government, it seemed as if nothing had happened. The same applied to Keith Schembri. 

The fact that Labour won the election did not mean that those two people should not assume political responsibility. Tolerating corruption was not in the Labour manifesto and that was not what the people voted for. 

Asked how he would draw voters back to the PN fold, Dr Portelli said a survey showed he was the most popular of the four leadership candidates among the people. He would reach out to the ‘new poor’ who could not make ends meet despite a strong economy. “Everyone must benefit from the economy, not just the chosen few,” he said. 

Will you still work in the PN if you lose?

The candidates were all asked what role they would seek in the PN if they were not elected as leader.

Dr Said said he would ‘undoubtedly’ continue to work in the PN as he had done every day for the past 33 years.

Dr Portelli said he was not prepared to continue to ‘play to lose,' and one could not have more of the same. He said he was ignored in the past when he revealed corruption at the time of the PN government, later making reference to the oil procurement scandal as an example.

Dr Perici Calascione said he would continue to say ‘yes’ to the party even if he was not its leader.

Dr Delia said the people wanted their party back, the party which they recognised, not the current one. He was here to bring that about ‘only’, he said. 

Dr Delia was then asked if the allegations made against him made him a ‘gift’ to Labour. He replied that a practising lawyer for years had hundreds of clients with their own stories. The allegations involved one of his clients, not himself, so much so that the PN Ethics Committee did not even admonish him. The PN would be cut off from reality if it did not choose a person who worked among the people, rather than career politicians.  

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