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Actions and consequences | Francis Zammit Dimech

Loyal backbencher and former minister Francis Zammit Dimech warns that rebel MPs face consequences when voting against the party line but still thinks that the government should complete its full mandate

james
James Debono
1 July 2012, 12:00am
Loyal backbencher and former minister Francis Zammit Dimech
Loyal backbencher and former minister Francis Zammit Dimech
The state of disunion in the PN was confirmed by none other than the highly influential MEP Simon Busuttil in an article penned on Wednesday, where he acknowledges that the Nationalist Party is "divided" and that "it is high time that we come clean on this one" because "people are loathe to trust a party in government if it is unable to stand united". Busuttil further warns that: "unless unity is restored, the party is in for a rough ride".

Veteran MP Francis Zammit Dimech says that he agrees with Busuttil's analysis, also with how the MEP warned of the danger posed by the Labour Party for being "opportunistic in exploiting the divisions in the PN".

Was that not exactly what the Nationalist Party did in 1998 when the Labour government faced Dom Mintoff's rebellion against the short-lived Sant government?

Zammit Dimech insists that there is a fundamental difference in the approaches of both parties to the two periods of instability in recent Maltese political history.

He points out that the PN never tried to exploit "personal issues" between Dom Mintoff with any Labour minister or public official serving at the time by presenting motions asking for their resignation.

Zammit Dimech insists that the PN's role was limited to pointing out the defects in the Cottonera project.

"It was Dr Alfred Sant who rather strangely changed that vote in to a confidence motion, something which he absolutely had no need to do."

Turning to the more recent events, Zammit Dimech believes that unity can only be restored in the PN if "everybody in the party understands the bigger picture and what is required in the national interest".

He insists that this can be achieved but only "through a lot of internal soul-searching and as much engagement as possible with all elements in the party".

How can one reconcile the aspiration for unity with condemning the three MPs whose votes were instrumental in the passing of two motions by the Opposition?

Zammit Dimech insists that by voting against the party line the rebel MPs took an action, which led to consequences.

"We cannot have a situation where a Member of Parliament does whatever he likes irrespective of the party line, and simply assume that there will not be any consequences."

For Zammit Dimech, a vote against a Cabinet Minister and the ambassador to the European Union were clearly actions, which did not conform to the "party line". 

"The least one can expect in the circumstances is a condemnation of that action."

But what are the tangible consequences of such a condemnation? Is it the beginning of a process leading to the expulsion of the three MPs?

"The party has nowhere indicated that this is the beginning of a process...that is why I would not have expected any of the three MPs to overreact to what was a natural consequence of their own actions."

He also makes it clear that expelling the MPs is presently not on the party's agenda.

But does Zammit Dimech favour such a course of action?

"I would discuss this issue if and when it arises in party structures... I have no opinion at this stage. I want to remain open to whatever evolves in the discussion within the party's ranks at the appropriate moment in time."

Fellow PN backbencher Beppe Fenech Adami argued that Franco Debono crossed a red line when he voted against Carm Mifsud Bonnici and therefore he would vote against his candidature in the next election if the matter is raised in the party's executive.

Zammit Dimech is once again evasive.

"I always prefer not to declare my own voting intentions before matters are actually discussed and a vote is taken...I am not aware that at this stage there is any item on the agenda to determine the candidates of the party in the next general election."

But who is to blame for the current instability? Is this state of affairs to be attributed to the personal agendas of the MPs in question or to the failure of the leadership to include them in party structures?

"Judging the three MPs in question on the basis of their own statements, it is very obvious that the personal element has been predominant..."

In particular, he refers to Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando's speech in parliament.

"The arguments he raised to justify voting with the opposition did not relate to the content of the motion itself. This worries me because that means that personal issues - including issues of vindictiveness - are becoming dominant in the local political scene."

He warns that this element of "vindictiveness" will have long-term repercussions on the country "especially because you have a Labour opposition which is focused on exploiting this situation..."

So was Pullicino Orlando acting in collusion with Labour?

"The worst form of collusion is voting with the opposition on a motion against a key government official without bothering whether what is alleged in the motion is true or not."

For Zammit Dimech, by doing so the Labour Party has reached "its lowest ebb" in its way of doing politics.

I point out at Cachia Caruana's various roles as ambassador to the EU,  who also attends Cabinet meetings, sits in the party's executive and dabbles as a key party strategist. Did not this turn him in to a larger-than-life figure?

Zammit Dimech's simple answer for that criticism is that Cachia Caruana has delivered.

"Has he not delivered beyond his normal call of duty, securing for Malta over €1 billion in EU funding when the opposition had claimed that Malta will be getting less than €1.5 million? Has he not delivered on the restructuring plan for Air Malta?"

He insists that the opposition's allegation that Cachia Caruana had bypassed parliament in negotiating the reactivation of membership in Partnership for Peace was never proved.

"Any member of the House who voted for a motion which has not been proved is a member who voted for other considerations and not those included in the motion."

But wasn't it rich on Cachia Caruana's part to say in an interview with the Sunday Times that former Labour leader Alfred Sant "had summed up [Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando] correctly", in a reference to Sant's scathing criticism of the MP during the 2008 general election and in the years to come? 

Zammit Dimech says that if it was up to him he "would have avoided that particular statement" but still considers Cachia Caruana's reflections on the Mistra case as "correct".

Zammit Dimech presents his version of how events unfolded following Alfred Sant's revelation that Pullicino Orlando owned pristine land in Mistra earmarked for the development of the Spin Valley Disco.

"The Nationalist Party was informed that an attack will be made against a rising star with environmental credentials... further analysis led to the identification of our colleague Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando..."

What was expected of Pullicino Orlando at the time was to "explain to the leadership of the party all relevant facts including whether there was a signed agreement and if he was in any way assisting or lobbying for the developer to get a permit".

For one of the cardinal values in politics, according to the veteran politician, is to "come clean by saying the whole truth and nothing but the truth", especially when asked to do so within the ranks of the party.

He also insists that the truth in these cases must be unequivocal and not expressed in statements, which could be ambiguous and vulnerable to misinterpretation.

"There should not have been any economy with the truth in meetings he had with the leadership of the party."

But Zammit Dimech insists that this does not mean that Pullicino Orlando was "guilty" on the Mistra case. 

"Probably, had the whole truth been said by Pullicino Orlando, that would have certainly led to a different way of handling the issue by the PN... but it could still have led to a "no wrongdoing" verdict with regards to Pullicino Orlando."

Irrespective of the fate of the three rebel MPs, Zammit Dimech points out that in the past prospective Nationalist candidates not only had to pass through a process of vetting but also through "intensive training in political issues and policies".

"I think the party needs to get back to doing that."

I present Zammit Dimech with my analysis of the political scenario where the two big parties - both of which occupy a vast ideological space - are increasingly becoming loose coalitions of candidates held together only by loyalty towards a presidential leader. In the absence larger-than-life issues like democratisation in the 1980s or EU membership in the 1990s, the allegiance of individual MPs depends entirely on their loyalty towards the party leader. Once the trust bond is broken the system implodes. Is there a need for a return for strong political parties with clear identities to counter this drift towards a kind of presidentialism, which tends to be incompatible with a parliamentary system like Malta's?

Zammit Dimech sees "a lot of validity" in this analysis.

"I would go further... what we are ultimately seeing is the transplantation of the American way of doing politics in Europe."

But he also sees positive aspects in this process.

"People need to be certain that the person occupying the role of PM and to whom they are entrusting their own future has really the national interest at heart and has the capability to govern the country with policies which deliver even in difficult circumstances as Lawrence Gonzi has done..."

He praises Gonzi for delivering in the most turbulent of times, "be it in a European or a Mediterranean context and to some extent within the party structures..."

But Zammit Dimech insists that he also favours a form of leadership "that reaches out as far as humanly possible to all people who can give a valid contribution and which engages everyone... this makes the role of political parties important".

He also points to the importance of parties engaging with civil society and NGOs.

The Nationalist government keeps on navigating from one crisis to the other, losing important votes without losing decisive confidence votes or money bills. Does this make hanging on to the natural end of the legislature possible?

Zammit Dimech notes that all three MPs who have not voted according to party line on the two recent motions "go out of their way to emphasise that they want to support government until the end of the legislature".

Therefore, according to the former minister, it is possible for the government to survive up till the end of the legislature. But is this advisable?

Zammit Dimech insists that it is the Prime Minister's prerogative to decide on this matter. But what is his judgement as one of the analytical minds in the Nationalist Party?

He describes calling an election now "as by far the easiest option is to call it a day and go for a general election".

He acknowledges that this option is also "the biggest temptation on many people's minds at this moment in time".

But Zammit Dimech asks "is this the most responsible course of action when you look at the national interest?"

The loyal backbencher clearly believes that this is not the case, pointing out the delicate situation of the eurozone crisis, and how the present government has managed to weather the storm.

He also points out that "by staying on in power" the government has secured the endorsement from the European Commission of a crucial restructuring plan for Air Malta and that the government is still achieving excellent results in employment as confirmed by both statistics and surveys showing that concern about employment is at its lowest ebb.

Zammit Dimech conjures the image of the Maltese prime minister replying "no" to other European prime ministers asking their Maltese counterparts on whether he is experiencing the same problems they have about employment and the economy.

"Some may even ask him do you have problems in the streets because students are protesting against higher fees? And he would reply what fees... we have stipends."

But is not Malta officially in a recession?

Zammit Dimech attributes the "two successive quarters of no growth" to "factors pertaining to one particular industry", adding that the situation in Malta does not "compare remotely" with what is happening in other countries, some of which had to plead for a bailout.

Zammit Dimech finds it preposterous for the Prime Minister to simply go for an election because he has "some issues from a few members in my own ranks", especially in a context where the leader of the opposition, "instead of proposing policies, is exploiting in the most opportunistic manner that situation and thus proving through his behaviour that he is the most ill-prepared man to occupy the role of prime minister".

Clearly, for Zammit Dimech, "not being content on a personal basis with the present situation" is not a sufficient reason for the prime minister to renounce his duty to respect the electorate's mandate and go for an election despite not having any "issue with regard to the economy, health, education and what counts in people's life".

But doesn't the current instability, as Joseph Muscat has repeatedly warned,  undermine the government's ability to govern in such a delicate international scenario? Is a weak government the best thing a country can have in these circumstances?

"If the government has achieved these results despite these problems and party ranks in the past four years, what would the government have achieved if the situation was even more stable..."

He warns that the "real instability" for the country would be "the instability" brought about by Muscat if he is ever trusted as prime minister, despite not having clear policies.

"This will be an instability which will affect people and not a political party within its own ranks."

Labour is successfully moving in Nationalist territory targeting issues and constituencies like building contractors traditionally targeted by the PN. Is this strategy effective?

Zammit Dimech describes this as "opportunism" based on "promising everything to everyone".

He attributes the PL's courting of the construction to dissatisfaction with MEPA decisions. 

"This is a situation which the PL wants to exploit but what does this mean in practice? What changes will be made to the planning process by a Labour government?"

He also alleges that a couple of people have told him that they have "very clear promises" from the Labour Party that "their respective projects will be the first to be approved".

"But what strikes me as even more dishonest is that the PL meets with environmental groups trying to sound as the most pro-environment lobby in the country..."

For Zammit Dimech this is a sign that Labour has only one thing on its mind: winning power. He acknowledges that the PN is trailing Labour in the polls by a wide margin referring directly to MaltaToday surveys and considers the situation as "worrying".

He invites voters to look at Labour's behaviour in parliament for the past months to get a taste of how Labour would behave if elected.

"This is not old Labour of the 1970s or 1980s but the Labour Party in 2012 and if that behaviour does not serve as a wake-up call for the people in general, we are in for a rough ride."

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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It has become extremely difficult to be prudent with Maltese politicians. Not only do they try to insult your intelligence by their arrogance and deceit, but they expect the electorate to come out of hibernation only when this government decides to call a general election. Their ruthless behavior gives them the privilege to elaborate about the necessities of manipulation at the detriment of an island held hostage by a clique of unelected cabals who controlled Castille for the last 25 years. One has to take whatever politicians like Francis Zammit Dimech tries to camouflage with a pinch of salt. Whatever half truths he is trying to unload upon the Maltese mentality, one has to remember where he has been and how he has survived his political demise. He represents what is wrong with the Maltese Constitution as someone who in any other truly democratic country would be pensioned off because the electorate had rejected him. God forbid that we should compare the actions of the PN in 1998 with the present. According to FZD the PN did not move forward any motions for removal of any of Alfred Sant’s ministers. While that might be true, what FZD has failed to clear up with his defense of this administration are the facts that Alfred Sant as one of the few honest politicians in Malta gave the country the option when he realized that his majority in parliament had eroded. What FZD also failed to clarify were the number of trips and the promises that the late Guido Demarco discussed with Dom Mintoff. It is disgustingly shameful what this country has become in the last decade of EU membership and what is more embarrassing for us all as Maltese is the way we try to pretend that this great abuse of power is a necessity to justify our future.
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George Muscat
Sewwa jghidu "l-ispizjar milli jkollu itik", huw veru Hon Dr Francis Zammit Dimech. Nispera li l-Poplu kollu jitlob Gustizzja tal-hnizrijiet li saru dawn l-ahhar 25 sena, u dak li insteraq irrid jintrodd lura. B'hekk issir il-Gustizzja
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Anthony Demanuele
Of equal importance is the consequences of the lack of action -which inexplicably is never discussed
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Janet Chircop Bray
Dr Zammit Dimech. f'kelma wahda tridha hobla u tredda. Qed tghid li minkejja li ma jkollokx il- maggoranza ta' deputati warajk xorta wahda ghandek tkompli tiggverna sal-ahhar. Prosit ghalik.
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Sandra Grima
well said. a true gentleman. deserves all the support
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Narcy Calamatta
Din x`demokrazija hija ? Ministru....Mela il laghqat tal kabinet ghalfejn isiru ? Mhux sabiex jekk ikun hemm xi disgwid bejn il membri, jitrangaw fuq dik il mejda, qabel il parlament ? Mela jekk xi membru qeghed imur kontra ir rieda tal partit, hemm id disgwid. Meta membru qeghed imur fil parlament u juri id disapprovazzjoni kontra il partit tieghu stess iffisser li ma hemmx kominikazzjoni, u dan ifisser li ma tistax tmexxi.Li taghti il kastigi ma tasal imkien ghax aktar ser iggib il firda.....Dan hsara lil pajjiz qeghed isir l-aktar u mhux lil partit...Il partit spicca diga..
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Oliver Magri
IL-QASMA LI HEMM GO GONZIPN HIJA TORT TAL PARTIT LABURISTA U TA JOSEPH MUSCAT.....LOGHBA ANTIKA...IL-POPLU MHUX QED JHEMMINKOM IZJED ISSA.