We need answers on Pietagate

In another world, Jean Pierre Debono would have resigned after reports showing the potential falsification of voters' signaturies surfaced, writes Saviour Balzan

Electoral games are not new to the PN: they have been part of a deep-rooted style for the Pietà boys.
Electoral games are not new to the PN: they have been part of a deep-rooted style for the Pietà boys.

On Friday MaltaToday published an exclusive story in the early hours of the morning. It was the confidential report signed by the Nationalist party’s electoral commissioner Joe Borg, severely rebuking the assistant secretary-general of the party Jean Pierre Debono, a newly-elected member of parliament and a backer of Adrian Delia, who went on to win the party leadership election.

What was revealed is serious. For what happened 
on his watch was the potential falsification of voters’ signatures on proxies, which if these were handled by Debono knowingly, could be a criminal act. Debono should worry. For it could end up looking like a real-life case of the shit hitting the fan.

Electoral games are not new to the PN: they have been part of a deep-rooted style for the Pietà boys.

Proxies authorising Jean Pierre Debono to pick up votes turned out to be carrying falsified signatures. The commission makes it very clear in its report, drawn up just two days before the party leadership election, that this was a “ruse” – but that the electoral process should not be halted. Life goes on. And yet the commission raised serious doubts about Jean Pierre Debono’s conduct, because he failed to verify the signatures, and that the ruse “facilitated the possibility of falsification”, leading it to condemn what was “an illicit electoral practice”.

Of course, a leak is par for the course in politics. And yet some apologists in the political media condemned the leak. Just a few months ago, leaks of every sort were the order of the day in bringing people to account. Now, the partisan media is condemning the leak. What a charade!

As things stand, we do not know how many proxies, involving as many voters, were collected by Jean Pierre Debono. Or how many, if they all were, possibly carried falsified signatures. And more importantly, whether the votes were actually delivered or indeed cast. For who would collect a voting document in this kind of election, but not proceed to cast the vote?

To start with, Jean Pierre Debono’s political future
 is in jeopardy. Debono is said to be able to take a lot of flak, and that he is a Teflon kind of guy. But this case concerns a clear act of irresponsibility, and one that should not have been in the control of an administration official – let alone an MP.

Debono definitely does not do justice to his position in the administration of the party and he surely would have had to resign as MP if we did not uphold our own particular brand of standards. Ethics do not start and end with an offshore company. That is why Debono is in a very delicate position. He was privy to very crucial information about the PN’s paid-up members while being at the nerve centre of the party. As was his right, he and his wife Kristy, also an MP, backed Adrian Delia all the way, while retaining his influential position inside the PN administration.

So Debono’s interest in seeing Delia en route to Castille would mean that it was also in his interest 
in taking those proxies so that he can collect voting documents for PN members. If those same members did not actually ask for this service – whether it was hastened by sectional committee representatives or not – it is indeed very curious.

As head of the electoral commission, Joe Borg did nothing to rock the boat just two days before the election. There’s something typically Nationalist about suspending a ruckus on fair play just to keep the occasion as decorous as possible.

But again, the question is simply: who would have wanted a vote to be collected in their name, but then not cast the vote? Were those votes actually passed on to their rightful holders so that they could vote? Or were those votes issued by the proxies, but then held by someone else... because the unwitting members were not interested in the election anyway and had not asked for the vote? If I did not want to join in the electoral process, I would simply have stayed home and not even picked up the vote, let alone handed a proxy document for someone to collect my vote.

Clearly, we need answers.

Sunday’s front-page story concerns an eyewitness who informed MaltaToday that he saw Jean Pierre Debono come forward with over 100 proxies to collect votes. Could there have been hundreds more?

The remarkable thing is that 14,742 voters cast their vote out of the 15,527 who collected their vote (either directly or through proxies). For it is important to learn whether the votes that were not cast, had indeed been also issued in the first place through a proxy. And furthermore, whether the people in whose name those votes were issued actually signed the proxy document.

It’s a simple equation that would solve the nagging question as to whether the election could have been rigged, a scandal that the PN definitely does not need at this time.

The party surely deserved a fresh start, even though in my view Adrian Delia is not that fresh start. 52% of PN voters saw him as some copy of Joseph Muscat. In their haste, they chose a man whose only mark in politics so far is the gruff timbre of his voice. And the aftermath has been bitter, with supporters seemingly unable to appreciate the importance of keeping the party together at this time. Delia appears to be more concerned with a messy attempt to get a seat inside the House and take up his position as Opposition leader, rather than showing some magnanimity to his rivals.

It’s looking just like House Of Cards. Feel free to binge-watch the whole season right into the early hours of the morning.

More in Blogs