Updated | Local councils 'in disastrous situation under Buontempo' - PN whip

PN whip David Agius says government ‘is doing nothing’ to help local councils

PN whip David Agius
PN whip David Agius

Opposition whip David Agius, PN spokesman for local councils, came down hard on the performance of Stefan Buontempo as parliamentary secretary for local councils.

According to Agius, the government was undermining the position of local councils while mayors pleaded for financial assistance. Turning to Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, responsible of Buontempo’s portfolio, Agius told Bonnici to pull up his sleeves and pay attention to Buontempo’s work.

Agius quipped that Buontempo “may be lost in the silent revolution”, accusing Buontempo “of making a disaster” in local councils since taking over.

“The disaster is so rampant that not even the Prime Minister found time to speak about local councils in his speech,” he said.

Agius said the government, in the run up to the local councils’ 20th anniversary, should right now be briefing the opposition on what preparations will be taking place. He lambasted government for deciding “to cancel” the 2017 local council elections, based on 40 submissions of which only 11 agreed that council elections should be held every five years.

Next year's council elections will be held as planned whereas those scheduled for 2017 will be held in 2019 with the EP elections. If the constitutional court gives its go ahead to the spring hunting abrogative referendum, this will be held with the local council elections planned for next year.

Agius asked government to say when next year’s elections will be held. Bonnici had said that a date will be announced once the constitutional court decides on the abrogative referendum.

 “On the other hand, you were not strong enough to even convince your own Cabinet to share 10% of the car licence fees which they could spend on road works in the locality,” he said.

Agius said that Transport Malta was “bulldozing” over local councils.

He also asked what prompted government’s decision to transfer waste, enforcement and light maintenance under the central government, as stated in the budget speech.

Agius urged government to take a decision on the local enforcement system, saying that the opposition had already extended its hand of cooperation but the position of the minister and the parliamentary secretary was not clear.

“Minister, do you know the disaster there is in local councils? At least Jose Herrera (former parliamentary secretary for local councils) had also expressed his agreement with an Ombudsman for local councils. What is Buontempo’s position on the matter?”

Repeatedly stating that he was ready to support the government in its decisions, Agius said local councils were in desperate need of financial help while executive secretaries in certain local councils were political party agents.

Justice ‘not equal for everyone’ – Fenech Adami

Justice in practice was not equal to everyone, according to shadow minister Beppe Fenech Adami. Taking the floor, Fenech Adami acknowledged a number of reforms in the justice system spearheaded by Bonnici but asked how many of these reforms were leaving positive results.

“Is there really efficiency in how cases are being heard and sentences delivered? Juries are still taking years to be heard; majority of district cases are still being deferred even though these should be heard and decided in one sitting,” he said.

Fenech Adami said the Labour Party in Opposition had given the impression that it had the magic wand to address the situation when it used “savagely attack” the former PN minister over delays.

He went on to argue that it was evident that “justice was not equal for everyone”, citing the amnesty for energy thieves, the delay in arraigning a minister’s driver for opening fire on a citizen, the Australia Hall case, the Carol Peralta incident, the retirement of Lino Farrugia Sacco and the fact that no other individual was arraigned in connection with the oil scandal.

A racket of tampered smart meters, which were previously believed to be tamper-proof, was uncovered by Enemalta and ministry officials in what is believed to have cost the state utility millions in revenues which were lost to theft. There have been several cases in court, and some convictions.

Fenech Adami asked how many of the thousands caught stealing failed to voluntarily regularise themselves with the schemes offered by Enemalta. According to a statement issued by Enemalta earlier this year, the entity was set to recover €10 million through the voluntary regularisation scheme.

On the Enemalta oil scandal, Fenech Adami asked how come no one was arraigned in court since the Labour government was elected. According to Inspector Angelo Gafa, the police had planned to arraign four of the Farrugia brothers and Trafigura representative Tim Waters.

Since Labour’s election, only one person – Alex Tranter – was arraigned in court, however charged with misappropriation of funds.

On a separate matter involving Manuel Mallia’s driver, Fenech Adami said that a few weeks ago a man was arrested and arraigned for carrying a fake gun during a hunters protest in Valletta within 48 hours and was held under arrest for several days.

“This time we had a constable who had a real gun and did not shy away from showing it and using it in public. But he was only arrested and arraigned a week later,” he said.

Fenech Adami said the two cases involving Magistrate Carol Peralta and retired judge Lino Farrugia Sacco undermined the people’s trust in the judiciary.

The Nationalist Opposition always insisted that the government should have first presented an impeachment motion against Magistrate Carol Peralta, before asking the Commission for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) to investigate him over the party held in the courtroom and the subsequent arrest of a reporter.

Fenech Adami added that Farrugia Sacco had taken the government and country for a ride, delaying his case allowing him to retire.

Zammit Dimech blasts ‘amateurish CHOGM website’

During his 30-minute intervention, PN MP Francis Zammit Dimech lambasted the “amateurish” CHOGM website, flagging grammatical and spelling mistakes. He proceeded to table in parliament printouts from the website, highlighting the errors.

He also claimed that, earlier today, the website read that Valletta was built in 1565, the year of the Great Siege of Malta.

Zammit Dimech also asked what results were achieved by William Mangion, handpicked by the government “to promote local bands”, including identifying a suitable place (garages) for bands to meet for rehearsals.

Zammit Dimech said the government should table a copy of Mangion’s contract. MaltaToday in August reported that Mangion was being paid €19,582 each year.

Nationalist MPs Paula Mifsud Bonnici and Robert Cutajar also took part in the discussion. Parliament this evening debated the financial estimates allocated for the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Councils.

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