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Gonzi satisfied with Franco Debono's vote for government on Budget bill
Budget measures bill passes with support of backbencher Franco Debono, along with resolution for City Gate special purpose vehicle.
9 May 2012, 12:00am
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi welcomed the passing of the Budget 2012 measures, after rebel backbencher Franco Debono voted - as expected in the last weeks - in favour of the money bill and preventing any crisis being visited upon the government.
Gonzi was unfazed by Debono's tirade at the start of tonight's session, in which the MP said that parliamentary business was being dictated by permanent representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.
"Franco Debono voted in favour of the Bill and it's now time to focus on the work we have in front us, and that is creating more work," a satisfied Gonzi told the press after the House adjourned at 10:30pm.
Earlier, Debono entered the House and questioned why amendments were being tabled just 24 hours before a vote. He then turned his attention to the "self-appointed technocrat and his friends who went to St Edward's College" - referring to Malta's permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana - and said that "we are all used to having him dictating how parliament should function".
"I will continue to fight until this parliament starts functioning as it should. Where is the Prime Minister right now? There is no one from the government's side," Debono said, pointing towards the empty seats of the government's bench.
The MP - whose complaint took 25 minutes of the three hours allocated for the approval of 37 clauses and several other amendments - told the Finance Minister that the problem was with government wasting three months instead of focusing on the bill. He then sat back in his bench, with a sullen look of his face.
Slamming his hand on the bench, Debono said the amendments should have been presented before. "Why this sudden urge to take a vote? Why didn't we postpone it to have the time to scrutinise the amendments? But of course, the Prime Minister delayed the vote because of the motion calling for the resignation of Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici and now they're all panicked the approve the Budget bill."
Finance Minister Tonio Fenech replied that the date set for the vote had been decided upon by the House Business Committee, and went on to say that if he knew that Debono wanted to participate in the committee - "something unusual as for the past eight years I was always alone with Charles Mangion to discuss amendments to money bill" - he should have told him before and he would have included him.
"Hon. Minister you know what I find strange?" Debono retorted. "That at 6pm you start the committee and at 9pm you must take a vote in parliament."
To that, Fenech replied: "If you want we can stay here until 1am or two in the morning if this makes you happy."
In the end, Debono added his vote to the 35 that carried both the Budget bill, and the City Gate's special purpose vehicle motion.
This live-blog has ended.
Welcome to our live blog for the 2012 Budget Measures Appropriation Bill, a money bill that government requires a majority to pass. It's a bill that has been postponed for some time now, after Nationalist MP Franco Debono declared back in January he was withdrawing his support for the government.
Things have since then changed, rather radically - read MaltaToday's report on Debono's comments to TVAM. MPs will debate the bill this morning till 1pm, and then resume in the evening to take a vote at 9pm, as well as a vote on the City Gate special purpose vehicle.
LISTEN to the House stream live | REFRESH for live updates.
10:27pm Parliament has been adjourned.
10:24pm 35 votes in favour, 34 against - the resolution for the SPV and budget bills have passed.
10:23pm Division is now called for a vote on the transfer of government leases to the special purpose vehicle Malita Investments plc. Doors closed, and Clerk of the House is reading out MPs' names for vote.
10:21pm The vote is 35 in favour, 34 against. The motion for the Budget Measures Implementation Bill has passed with Franco Debono's support at committee stage - now the bill goes for its third reading in the House.
10:19pm A vote has now been called, and the Clerk of the House will read out MPs' names before proceeding to the vote.
10:17pm Discussion over. Speaker Michael Frendo takes chair. Division called, doors closed.
10:16pm Labour whip Joe Mizzi spots a few spelling mistakes and forces amendments. Some MPs do work hard...
10:04pm Since all alphabetical letters have been read out in Maltese, article 37 (y) hit a snag since there is no Maltese sound for that letter... deputy Speaker Censu Galea put down a suggestion to call it an 'ypsilon' because it was "not Maltese" but he had little to say about referring to it as 'w-y-e' - in English... since that's far more Maltese-sounding than Greek, one assumes. And now they're finally at 'aa'...
9:59pm Franco Debono is not sitting in his usual seat behind the Prime Minister, but sitting on the far left close to the MPs at the end of the government bench. During his acrimonious distancing from the PN, he chose to sit on the far end to the right of all MPs, cut off totally from the government bench.
9:53pm If you're asking what's taking so long, clause 37 has sub-sections running from a to z, and beyond with aa and ab. Alphabetical overflow.
9:15pm We're nearing the final stages of the 37-clause reading of this bill.
8:48pm It looks like the vote will be taken after 9pm. The committee is still at clause 27, with 10 more remaining. The majority of the clauses had amendments to them which needed to be approved one by one. An estimated total of 60 amendments were put forward.
8:31pm Opposition leader Joseph Muscat enters the House as most of his MPs have already taken their seats. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is not in yet.
8:08pm Franco Debono's interjection has yielded an amendment by Minister Fenech on this last clause.
8:04pm Some spirit of bipartisanship here with Franco Debono interceding to clarify a point raised by Labour MP Karmenu Vella over a budgetary measure concerning penalties on impounded cars.
7:31pm Readers should know that Labour is voting against every clause, which so far are being approved in totality by the entire government bench, which number a grand total of seven MPs so far.
7:11pm Finance minister Tonio Fenech tells Labour MP Charles Mangion that over a 100 applications have been made under the highly qualified tax band of 5% - that's the super-rich tax for 'highly qualified individuals'. Fenech said this level of interest meant the tax had been "quite successful".
7:04pm Finance Minister Tonio Fenech is at the moment running through all the clauses of the Budget Measures Bill where MPs take a vote on each clause. It's a tedious process but it is necessary since the House is at the moment working as a committee, in a bid to secure agreement on each clause of this money bill, or propose amendments. The request to form the committee in the House was made by the Opposition.
6:57pm It looks like Debono has 'momentarily' left the House.
6:55pm The maverick MP - whose complaint has taken 25 minutes of the three hours allocated for the approval of 37 clauses and several other amendments - told the Finance Minister that the problem was with government wasting three months instead of focusing on the bill. He then sat back in his bench, with a sullen look of his face.
6:53pm Fenech tells Debono: "If you want we can stay here until 1am or two in the morning if this makes you happy."
6:52pm "Hon. Minister you know what I find strange? That at 6pm you start the committee and at 9pm you must take a vote in parliament," Debono retorts.
6:50pm Finance Minister says it is not his fault that the vote is to be taken today: "This was decided by the House Business Committee and I have no control over that."
Fenech went on to say that if he knew that Debono wanted to participate in the committee - "something unusual as for the past eight years I was always alone with Charles Mangion to discuss amendments to money bill" - he should have told him before and he would have included him.
6:45pm Debono intervenes: "Why this sudden urge to take a vote? Why didn't we postpone it to have the time to scrutinise the amendments? But of course, the Prime Minister delayed the vote because of the motion calling for the resignation of Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici and now they're all panicked the approve the Budget bill."
Slamming his hand on the bench, Debono said the amendments should have been presented before.
6:44pm As the Opposition explains to Debono that it was "normal procedure" that amendments to bills are presented at the last minute, Mangion goes on to explain that it was fair to ask for earlier notice as the amendments included legal technicalities which need some time to go through and analyse.
6:37pm With just under five minutes in parliament, Debono intervenes and attacks government for presenting the amendments to the bill just yesterday: "How can we have more amendments than clauses in the resolution?"
In a futher missive against government, and in an animated speech, Debono asked whether it was normal that in parliament a bill is presented, and the amendments were only presented just 24 hours before the vote.
Debono turned his attention to the "self-appointed technocrat and his friends who went to St Edward's College" - referring to Malta's permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana - and said that "we are all used to having him dictating how parliament should function".
"I will continue to fight until this parliament starts functioning as it should. Where is the Prime Minister right now? There is no one from the government's side," the PN's enfant terrible said, pointing towards the empty seats of the government's bench.
6:25pm Backbencher Franco Debono, who said this evening will vote with government on the Budget bill, has just entered parliament.
6:17pm Finance Minister Tonio Fenech is now presenting one clause after the other to be approved by the committee. Shadow minister Charles Mangion intervenes and said that the Opposition hadn't the time to look at the amendments which were only presented yesterday evening.
6:12pm Good evening, we return live from parliament. The budget bill is now at committee stage, which means that parliament is approving the clauses of the bill before a vote is taken. This is expected to happen at around 9pm.
12:01pm Division is called for 9pm vote; morning session is now adjourned for 6pm for approval of Budget measures bill, and City Gate resolution.
12:00pm - "We are sending a message, that this House is ready to sustain our social fabric, our society, jobs and education: an Opposition's vote against this Budget is against all this, against pensioners' relief, against tax relief for businesses and parents who send children to private schools, to the property market."
11:53am - "Edward Scicluna lied on this answer by Rehn. The Commissioner was saying that Malta took timely action to correct the deficit. It seems Scicluna did not understand the English translation of this answer."
11:49am - "What is unacceptable is the spin of Labour MEP Edward Scicluna, who insists Brussels forced us to make €40 million cuts when this is simply not true... Commissioner Ollie Rehn's answer to Scicluna was: 'The Council recommended Malta to bring the general government deficit to below 3% in GDP in a credible manner... Rehn asked for additional measures that would ensure a timely corrective measure to the deficit. The Maltese government presented its budget for 2012 in November. In January 2012, the Commission published its assessment for 2012 and considered the Maltese authorities had taken timely action..."
11:48am - "It's a gamble with Labour... Joseph Muscat knows business feels Labour is risky. That's why Muscat always insists that business 'will be safe with Labour'... business knows that historically Labour was against market liberalisation, in favour of bulk-buying... where is this party's economic policy?"
11:43am - Fenech is countering Labour claims of 'hidden debt', saying Enemalta's and other public entities' debts - in the form of government guarantees and letters of comforts - are regularly published by the government. "The Opposition must show some consistency. Labour says it will reduce utility rates, but we know they will tell us, if elected, that they have found a mountain of debt at Enemalta and cannot reduce utility rates. A Labour government will be an austerity goverment... we saw it in 1996, when Labour used the deficit to cut down university stipends."
11:40am - "The Labour party talks about the middle-class... but have they seen what incentives we gave to parents sending children to private schools and for pensioners in homes for the elderly? Have they seen the incentives we provided for middle-class families? Will they be voting for this budget? The answer is simply no."
11:39am - "We have reduced income tax for parents with a new tax band, and also gave tax holidays to mothers returning to the labour market and new tax incentives on childcare costs."
11:37am - Fenech says Malta is seriously looking into developing the digital games market that will put the island on the map of this industry. "It's going to be a fascinating development."
11:36am - "We have given aid to the most vulnerable families to be able to pay their energy bills because of the increase in the international price of oil."
11:30am - "We have created incentives towards economic growth. The IMF's detailed report describes our economic growth as one that is 'impressive', the very word used in the text of the IMF report. It is unsurprising that Opposition leader Joseph Muscat did not hold his usual press conference on this report. It's usually him and his three altar-boys - Mangion, Vella and Scicluna - but they were nowhere to be seen when the IMF said our fiscal sustainability was impressive." [According to the IMF report, it's the economic turnaround that was 'impressive', the economic growth was 'modest'.]
11:29am - Finance minister Tonio Fenech speaking.
11:23am - "Today's natural environment is so far better than it ever was... this government believes in seeing polluting cars pay higher rates and we have supported the effort for newer fleets with scrapping subsidies."
11:20am - "On the recent education bill, we had a three-part farse inside this House... Labour MP Owen Bonnici said he would vote in favour, then Evarist Bartolo saying Labour will vote against, and then finally a nem con vote with no Labour oppostion... to me, Labour has no policy on education. Government has invested millions in new schools and the MCAST campus, to create new skills that will attract more jobs to Malta."
11:11am - "World leaders like Angela Merkel tell us we are making miracles in Malta... we are creating jobs, but not by creating work corps like Labour's vision is. We are actually creating real jobs."
11:09am - David Agius is paying tribute to the symbolism of 9 May - being Europe day - representing the radical changes EU accession brought for the country. Agius also points out: 9 May is the day the PN was elected to power in 1987 and also St George Preca's santification. Religion, party, state all nicely mashed in one day...
11:06am - Government whip David Agius speaking.
11:03am - Joe Falzon says his personal experience when meeting constituents is that he sees the real effects of the government's budgetary measures truly in action.
10:55am - Falzon says some problems of hospital management, referring to bed shortages, has been conditioned somewhat by the increase in patients entering Mater Dei Hospital. In 2011, there was a 100% increase in hospital vists over 2007; but this has been accompanied with a constant service in terms of medical scans and examinations offerred to cater for this increased demand.
10:43am - Falzon also lists the substantial progress registered in tourism, with arrivals going over the 1.4 million mark in 2011, and spending even more money than ever before.
10:38am - Falzon is paying tribute to government's aid to businesses by offering tax incentives in return for new jobs, as well as tourist project aid, and the €20 million aid in SMEs which has led to hundreds of new jobs.
10:34am - "Job creation is a national challenge that must be constantly addressed. We can't take any wrong step... a bad decision can throw the programme overboard."
10:32am "One of the challenges the country must keep in mind is job creation. We have faced this challenge especially with a Labour opposition, which is itself not occupied with government business to be creating work of its own."
10:29am Falzon says critics of the government's budgets seldom realise that efficiency measures by the private sector is essential if businesses, and government, must survive in a globalised world of competition.
10:26am Nationalist MP Joseph Falzon speaking.
10:23am Galdes has turned to the problem of national debt: "We can trim down the budget, but debt is payable by future generations. It's the Gonzi government's lasting monument."
10:19am "In planning, we have seen €200,000 less from the MEPA subvention voted in the Budget," Galdes says, but points out that cutting down wastage inside the authority is essential.
10:15am "Government should tell us where money for the housing subsidies it is dishing out right now, is found in the budegtary vote."
10:13am "This is a budget that lacks any social spirit, with capital projects postponed and other promises shelved. This is a budget that is witness to the lack of deliverables from government."
10:07am Galdes says Gonzi's web conference, held Tuesday night, is all well and good but "real poverty does exist, and there are families who have no access to this essential item in our households. Relative poverty is also a reality, and is being experienced by people living right below the middle class and who have to work more to make ends meet."
10:05am Galdes, a MEPA employee and Labour's representative on the MEPA board, says the authority has an €8 million deficit.
10:03am "We have recently experienced hikes in energy prices, namely in fuel and gas, and we have seen no government action on these prices. Families' purchasing power has decreased radically."
10:01am Galdes starts off by pointing out that the European Commission 'forced' the government to cut spending, something Tonio Fenech has this week denied. "I call this budget, a 'precarity' budget, because this is a word we are hearing more offten these days," Galdes says, referring to sub-optimal and low-income conditions for unskilled labourers.
10:00am Roderick Galdes (PL) speaking.
9:59am Farrugia describes Lawrence Gonzi's web conference on Tuesday night as "an elegy" [full commentary on that web conference here].
9:56am Farrugia has turned to Libya, and the Opposition's visit to the North African country. "Gonzi's hysteria over our visit to Labour is misplaced... we're not behaving like the Nationalist opposition that encouraged companies to leave the coutry to jeopardise the Labour government... Malta comes first and foremost, whether we are in government or not."
9:53am Talking about 'energy poverty', Farrugia is listing the hikes in energy, gas and fuel prices as evidence of a deteriorating quality of life that is reflective of the real state of the economy. "How come the gas cylinders' price increased recently only for consumer cylinder size, but not for industrial users? Or why is petrol rising and not for diesel engines?"
9:48am Farrugia has turned to Smart City now. "Gonzi says he takes pleasure seeing the buildings rise... what we want to see is not buldings rising, but to see the 7,000 jobs promised by Gonzi actually materialise."
9:46am Farrugia says a new Labour government will not tolerate the employment of sub-contracted staff in breach of labour laws.
9:45am "All nurses, save for one particular course, had their university stipends reduced by the GonziPN government... for two entire years, nursing graduates were not employed as casuals, but had to register for work elsewhere."
9:44am Franco Debono and government Whip Franco Debono have entered the House. Michael Farrugia is now bringing up the problems of a lack of nursing staff.
9:43am "What is government waiting for to add more beds to Mater Dei, now that it is considering taking the space of the Mater Dei hospital's helipad for the Life Sciences Park [Malta Enterprise's bioscience industrial park]?"
9:41am "People are today suffering from the bad decisions taken during the construction of the Mater Dei Hospital, which has a lack of beds due to less wards constructed, that were originally scheduled to be built on an additional storey."
9:39am "It is questionable why government decided to go for an €80 million spend on the City Gate buliding during an austerity budget that saw a further €40 million in cuts... the government injected money into the economy, only to withdraw it some time later from the welfare sector."
9:35am All government MPs, bar three, have left the House now, Miriam Dalli says.
9:34am Labour MP Michael Farrugia speaking.
9:15am Good morning. Miriam Dalli is following today's events in the House where MPs will make their submissions on the 2012 Budget measures bill. It is an important money bill, but no surprises can be expected. Franco Debono has declared he will be voting in favour of the government on the bill.
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