Exclusive | PN’s Jean Pierre Debono chided by commission for proxy votes with falsified signatures

UPDATED | PN electoral commission’s secret report condemned assistant secretary-general Jean Pierre Debono for failing to verify signatures on proxy votes that ‘facilitated the possibility of falsification’

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
22 September 2017, 12:01am
Adrian Delia (right) with Jean Pierre Debono by his side at the PN's Independence celebrations. Photo: James Bianchi
Adrian Delia (right) with Jean Pierre Debono by his side at the PN's Independence celebrations. Photo: James Bianchi
Updated with statement from Jean Pierre Debono and a clarification of the report, which incorrectly attributed the act of falsification to Debono

A confidential report by the Nationalist Party’s electoral commission accused PN assistant secretary-general and MP Jean Pierre Debono of having handled proxies for votes in the PN leadership election with falsified signatures.

The report says that under his watch, Debono failed to verify the signatures for the proxy votes, delivered to him by PN sectional committee members on behalf of party members.

Debono has categorically denied having falsified the signature. MaltaToday has since its original report accepted that Debono was accused by the electoral commission of not having verifed the proxies handed to him.

"Sectional committee members, upon seeing the long queues of members turning up to the HQ to collect their votes, would hand me proxy votes of their district members so that I could hasten the process and collect the votes myself. Hundreds of these proxies were used to speed up the collection process. The committee said I did not verify the signatures of these proxy votes. It was not something possible for me to do," Debono told MaltaToday.

Power couple: both Jean Pierre and Kristy Debono are Nationalist MPs
Power couple: both Jean Pierre and Kristy Debono are Nationalist MPs
Sources who spoke to MaltaToday said the proxies woudl have allowed Debono, a backer of new PN leader Adrian Delia, to collect voting documents so that he could deliver them to paid-up members eligible to vote in the PN leadership election.

The report, published exclusively by MaltaToday [see below], shows that the electoral commission headed by Joe Borg condemned the falsification of signatures as “an illicit electoral practice”.

The report was concluded just two days before the 16 September election, but was not divulged to any of the two candidates – Adrian Delia and Chris Said – or even to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

Already Debono was entertaining a conflict of interest in his role as a supporter of the Delia campaign while using his assistant secretary-general’s influence to manage PN memberships. Debono is the husband of MP Kristy Debono.

But when a PN voter turned up at the PN headquarters to collect his vote, he was informed by the commission that his vote had already been collected by Jean Pierre Debono on the strength of a signed declaration by the voter, authorising Debono to collect the vote on his behalf.

The man, whose name is blacked out in the report published here, declared he never gave anyone any legal deputation to collect his vote.

The commission discovered eight other such declarations issued on the same day authorising Debono to collect voting documents for other voters.

MaltaToday's source, who wished to remain anonymous, believes hundreds of PN members’ votes could have been collected in this manner. “It was not easy to get people to vote in this election. Debono had very good contacts in the south and by personally involving himself in the collection of votes, he could directly or indirectly influence their voting intentions,” the source said, underlining the seriousness of the accusation.

Over 22,000 paid-up members were eligible to vote in the PN leadership election, the first ever to require popular suffrage, but ultimately just over 15,000 collected their voting documents and cast their ballots.

In its conclusions, the commission said:

• Debono had allowed proxies to be issued without verification or even making contact with the voters in whose name the proxies were issued, “facilitating the possibility of falsifying the signatures on the proxies”

• Debono had passed on voting documents to sectional committees when these had to be passed on to the voters themselves

• Debono kept this practice secret from the electoral commission, and that it was only the incident of the voter complaint that led to the inquiry that shed light on the illicit practice

• Joe Borg’s commission condemned the practice as one that went against the commission’s rules, and dubbed it an illicit electoral practice.

The commission however also said that since voters were only allowed to cast their ballot upon presentation of both identity cards and the voting document, there was no risk on the voting process itself.  

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.