Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando entering the House on Monday evening. Photo: Ray Attard/Mediatoday.
Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando stepped out of an agreed line of action on Monday evening, deputy prime minister Tonio Borg said on PBS breakfast show TVAM, after the MP voted in favour of an Opposition motion that resulted in the resignation of Richard Cachia Caruana, the permanent representative to the EU.
"I was surprised at the vote of Pullicino Orlando, because he did say - publicly - that he would not vote for the motion. The impression was that everything was right," Borg said.
Pullicino Orlando's vote in favour of the Labour motion was accompanied by an abstention from Jesmond Mugliett, who said Malta's reactivation of Partnership for Peace - which Labour claimed was reactivated without the House's approval in a strategy devised by Cachia Caruana - should have been discussed within the parliamentary group and the House itself.
Borg said that although the vote was lost, the government would still continue governing as long as its electoral mandate allowed it to do so.
But he did not go any further into internal party proceedings against Pullicino Orlando, who on Monday said he had met with Richard Cachia Caruana at the MP's house earlier last month and that there was no personal discord between the two men.
"It's not a matter of discipline," Borg said when asked whether any disciplinary steps will be taken against Pullicino Orlando. "Everyone in parliament is free to vote as he wishes. There are consequences that follow," Borg said.
Pullicino Orlando, whose political vicissitudes have included being accused by Labour leader Alfred Sant of using his influence to obtain a planning permit; thwarting Richard Cachia Caruana's own plan to push with an extension of the St John's Cathedral; the introduction of divorce; and now prompting the resignation of Cachia Caruana; has declared he will not contest the next general elections.
"There is no doubt that there was something personal," shadow foreign minister George Vella said on TVAM. "But what certainly emerged was Cachia Caruana's public profile was a larger than life one."
Vella denied any knowledge of any contact with the MP and the Opposition prior to the vote. "The aim of this motion was that the supremacy of parliament could not be ignored. I am convinced we had a genuine case."
Borg said Cachia Caruana's resignation was an "ugly precedent" for civil servants who served the country and followed ministers' orders.
The resignation motion was prompted by US embassy cables published by Wikileaks back in 2011, which gave the impression that Cachia Caruana was advocating the reactivation of Partnership for Peace documents signed with Malta in 1996 to avoid going to the parliament and face a divisive vote. Cachia Caruana was grilled in the foreign affairs committee by Labour and government MPs, and told the committee he had been unaware that Lawrence Gonzi would reactivate PfP in 2008, after the general election, when parliament was still in dissolution.