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Updated | Debono turns down offer for talks, issues salvo on ‘bully’ Austin Gatt
Nationalist MP wants reduction in utility bills or government faces ‘big problems for next Budget’.
3 August 2012, 12:00am
Nationalist MP Franco Debono has repudiated an invitation by finance minister Tonio Fenech to share his ideas about how to reduce utility bills, after posting a salvo in his personal blog this morning attacking investments minister Austin Gatt as a 'bully'.
Reacting to Fenech's comments to MaltaToday this morning at a press conference that unveiled the PN's new 'Labour won't work' billboard, Debono said he would not share his "good" ideas.
"I have learnt my lessons well. You blame others for your failures whilst you steal other people's good ideas. I have put forward fundamental ideas in justice and home affairs and in constitutional matters and you know what I got from the party? A condemnation and election ban," Debono said, who has been banned from contesting the 2013 elections after voting for the resignation of home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici in an Opposition motion.
"Now you ask for my ideas? How rude! With all due respect Minister Fenech... if you have no ideas, move out of the way and let others take control.
"You should refrain [from] tackling this issue on the same model you have been doing over the past years in your home economics, particularly in refurbishing and cleansing of your home!" Debono said, referring to allegations that the minister's home renovation works in Attard had been carried out by the Montebello Bros firm in a bid to secure his influence on a property sale.
Earlier this morning, Debono sounded a new battle-cry against Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and investments minister and political rival Austin Gatt - whom he now dubs "the bully" - saying he wants to see lower utility bills for the next Budget.
"I wish the Prime Minister and his family a good holiday. In the meantime let it be clear that if this burden is not going to be lifted from Maltese families then the government is heading into big problems for the next Budget," Debono wrote this morning in his flegdling blog.
It will be Gonzi's first challenge as the summer recess gives way to an animated political season, when parliament goes to vote on a budget which now needs the support of independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. Facing little space for manouvre due to increased spending and a tight deficit-reduction programme, Gonzi could have little room for reduced utility bills that put a further strain on the financing of Enemalta.
But Debono, who has previously claimed he would not support Gatt as long as he remains a cabinet minister, is now upping the ante in yet a new challenge to his own government: reduce the utility bills first raised by Gatt under his cost-recovery strategy for Enemalta, when he was minister responsible for energy.
Labour has also set much store in promising reduced utility bills if elected.
Finance minister Tonio Fenech invited Debono to make his own proposals on reducing utility bills, when asked for a reaction to the MP's latest salvo at a PN press conference this morning. "It's Labour who should tell us how they intend reducing utility bills. Government made its own sacrifice in absorbing the increase in the international price of oil in January, not to pass on the increase to consumers.
"If Franco Debono has any proposals on reducing utility bills he is more than welcome to discuss how this can be done. On our part, we will be presenting a responsible budget."
Coming just two days after a PN mailshot from the Prime Minister telling families to relax on their summer holidays, Debono's timing is not uncanny: "Whilst some people are on holiday, others are struggling to make ends meet especially due to inhumane and cruel utility bills which have burdened Maltese families for the past years ever since 'the Bully' decided to play his antics once again on his favourite victim: the whole Maltese population," Debono says, referring to Gatt.
Debono said he has "valid ideas" to counterbalance the "atrocities committed by the 'Untouchable Bullies'."
"Bullies have no place in politics, let alone in the politics of a small island. Bullies have debased politics and brought [about] the troubled situation we are in now. Bullies mean trouble and more bullies."
There is no love lost between Debono and Austin Gatt, after the MP nearly cost him his cabinet position when he abstained in a motion of no-confidence filed by the Opposition back in November 2011. Gatt's head of secretariat Manuel Delia is now being fielded as a candidate in Debono's fifth district, while Gatt's former right-hand man Claudio Grech is also contesting the next elections.
"I remember objecting in the parliamentary group to the cruel increases which have destroyed families and brought people on their knees, pointing out [that] people will never understand the increase at a time when oil prices were going down. Others objected too. You can imagine what il-Bully's reply was," Debono wrote in his blog.
Debono has been banned from contesting on the PN ticket in 2013 after voting for the resignation of home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici with the Opposition.
The MP now says Gatt should be responsible for the mismanagement in the energy sector.
In another blogpost, Debono reiterated his claim that he would not support a prime minister held hostage by people like Austin Gatt, and said Gonzi's reshuffle in January 2012 did little to quell the MP's ire. "The real and greatest problem was not who wasn't appointed to Cabinet, but who wasn't removed."
"Can this country tolerate a minister (Austin Gatt) and his band of merry men in various government boards and entities playing musical chairs, committing one blunder after the other, not resigning after BWSC, not resigning after Arriva, burdening the Maltese population with cruel water and electricity bills, declares he is not even contesting the next elections, and he continues to act and is allowed to act by the prime Minister as if he is an untouchable 'li hadd ma jista ghalih'? (an untouchable)."
Debono accused Gatt of having disgusted "thousands of Maltese people including Nationalists" and causing harm to the PN and government.
"People don't like bullies. Someone who is confrontational by nature does not become a 'doer' because [he] exhibits his bullying tactics and gives vent to his anger, with the excuse of getting things done."
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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