The new Nationalist | Charlò Bonnici

Nationalist MP Charlò Bonnici not only agrees with the bill on party financing drafted by Franco Debono but insists that controversial laws such as IVF and civil partnerships should be pushed through by the government.

Nationalist MP Charlò Bonnici.
Nationalist MP Charlò Bonnici.

Nationalist MP Charlo Bonnici is not one who minces his words. In the past he has publically questioned whether it was acceptable in this day and age for political parties to own television stations, supported calls to amend censure laws in Malta, opposed the Ghadira road project and last year attended an anti-Gaddafi march before government took a clear stand on the Libyan situation.

While Bonnici played a central role in standing up for Carm Mifsud Bonnici during the Parliamentary debate on Labour's motion calling for the former minister's resignation, he aligns himself to the party's liberal and reformist faction by backing legislation regulating party financing, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and civil partnerships.  

As the government emerges from a busy week in which it lost one of its ministers and won a vote of confidence, Charlo Bonnici refuses to get caught up in the Franco Debono whirlwind and looks ahead at the coming months with a cautious sense of optimism.

He admits that recent events might have damaged his party but with elections possibly held as late as spring next year, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and his government have enough time to close the gap on Labour and convince the electorate that it deserves another term at the helm of the country.

The former head of news at Net TV and former chairman of the  Malta Song for Europe board was in the headlines over the past week after his comments on Franco Debono and the Opposition's motion calling for Carm Mifsud Bonnici's resignation.

Asked about the recent events in Parliament dominated by Mifsud Bonnici's resignation and the vote of confidence in government, Bonnici says that while he understands that it is the opposition's duty to scrutinise the government and its ministers, he accuses the opposition of crass opportunism.

"I understand that the opposition tries to make most of the current situation where government only has a one-seat majority, but targeting one particular minister and tabling one motion after another shows that the opposition is only interested in one thing," Bonnici says.

He adds that the opposition's motions were motivated by Debono's ramblings and fuelled by its thirst for power.

Bonnici admits that recent events might have damaged the Nationalist Party but echoing a number of observers including former Labour minister Lino Spiteri, he says "the opposition has come across as opportunistic".

He also points out that during home visits he is currently carrying out in his district, the electorate is displaying similar reservations to Labour's repeated attempts at destabilising the government. 

In Parliament, Bonnici claimed that the opposition's motion was "aimed at hurting the government, but its consequence was that it was hurting a well-respected minister and his family". He had also said that the attack on Mifsud Bonnici was also "an attack on us all".

Bonnici denies that this was part of an "orchestrated tactic in trying to equate the vote to a vote of confidence in the government or pressure Debono to vote with government".

Rebutting the opposition's claim that Debono had laid down conditions on his support to government, Bonnici maintains that "the vote of confidence was clear and unconditional which now will give us the time and space to carry out the popular mandate obtained in the last election".

Looking forward at the challenges ahead of government, Bonnici says that the government should push through laws such as the classification of films and of dramatic and other stage productions' amendment bill to be discussed in Parliament this week and other bills in the pipeline including the controversial party financing, IFV and cohabitation laws.

"I have no problem in agreeing with a bill proposed by Franco Debono. I have said it in the past and I have no problem repeating it again. I agree with many things he has proposed. I do not agree with the method used," he says.

Bonnici is employed by Zaren Vassallo who has gone on record saying that he has donated money to both the Nationalist Party and Labour Party. While admitting that Vassallo, a construction magnate and a former PN mayor, was accused of being in cohorts with both parties, the MP has no qualms in agreeing to the party financing law.

"Although I work for who I work, I totally support the party financing bill which demands parties to publish the names of donors and regulate the expenditures of candidates contesting elections."

He then explains that reforms must be much more wide-ranging and says that he backs calls to allow elderly persons and hospital patients to vote on site, foreign-based voters to vote abroad and an overhaul in how Parliament operates.

Bonnici also agrees with pending legislation on IVF and cohabitation. Recently, Justice Minister Chris Said said the laws were currently at an advanced stage and currently on the Cabinet's agenda.

Asked whether the government is too slow in moving these laws, a cautious Bonnici says that such laws need time because of their sensitive nature. Pressed to say whether these laws should be introduced before the next election, an elusive Bonnici says "ideally they should be discussed soon but it could be counter-productive if they are rushed".

On IVF, he says that although the "Catholic Church has every right to express its opinions" on such delicate matters it must not overstep its position and bear a disproportionate influence on the cabinet or parliament. "Parliament should legislate on IVF, irrespective of the Church's opinion on the matter."

On the cohabitation law which will also regulate same-sex relationships, Bonnici steered away from expressing explicit support for same-sex unions but said "the law will regulate civil partnerships such as brothers and sisters living together. This will also include same-sex partners and I believe that the cohabitation law should be approved in the near future".

Going back to the Parliamentary events which dominated the political scene over the last couple of weeks, Bonnici reiterates his disagreement with Debono's decision to vote with the opposition.

In comments he gave to MaltaToday last Sunday, the MP said "I believe that by voting with Labour to oust one of our ministers, Franco has crossed a line he should have never crossed."

While admitting that he does not want to get involved in an endless feud with Debono he also does not want to give an impression that he is intimidated by the maverick MP's outbursts.

Bonnici says that he might have spoken out in anger and disappointment but added: "I was only representing the view shared by a majority of Nationalist MPs. I was not asked to speak out on anyone's behalf but I was just expressing a sentiment which I can assure you was shared by the majority of government MPs."

Pressed to explain how he expects the Nationalist Party to deal with Debono, he says: "All I said is that Franco Debono should shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of his actions."

However, he admits that with a one-seat majority, the party's hands are tied "and must act within the limitations of the current reality".

In his fiery intervention in Parliament, Debono shed doubts on Bonnici's team spirit, and explained that Bonnici was the head of former minister Louis Galea's secretariat and left the job some weeks before the last election to pursue his own electoral campaign, possibly effecting Galea's chances of re-election.

Bonnici, who repeats that he does not want to get involved in a personal feud with Debono, says: "I do not wish to say much on this but I must point out that I only accepted to be a candidate after being asked by the party's secretary-general."

He explains: "I did not wish to contest the election and when I was summoned by the Party's secretary-general I thought it was related to my role as Attard deputy mayor.

After being asked to contest, I laid down one condition, that of first consulting with my family and with Louis Galea, who I adore for his visionary role within the party."

It transpires that when Bonnici asked Galea whether he had any problem with him contesting the 2008 election, "Galea not only was aware of the party's request but it was he who was behind the move".

Bonnici describes the decision by the Prime Minister's to take over the Home Affairs portfolio as "a wise one" since the portfolio includes sensitive sectors such as migration, the police and prisons.

He points out that in the past the prime minister has demonstrated that he is capable of carrying out such delicate jobs. Asked whether the prime minister should appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to assist him in home affairs, while maintaining that such a decision remains Gonzi's prerogative, Bonnici says that "in time the prime minister will pass on the responsibilities to somebody else but this will take time. I agree that there should be a transitional period but before appointing someone else some important measures must be implemented".

Before the Carm Mifsud Binnici vote, Debono had requested the prime minister to single out The Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruna Galizia and condemn her for attacking his family.

Asked whether Caruana Galizia is an asset or a liability to the Nationalist Party, Bonnici simply replies that "she is effective" refusing to pass a judgement on the blogger.

He adds that "everyone has a right to express an opinion as long as it is done within certain limits. But it is dangerous to ask the prime minister to stop someone from expressing their freedom of expression. It reminds me of other times when the Nationalist Party was struggling for such rights. I believe in the freedom of expression and limiting it is dangerous".

Bonnici also calls for a reform in the way Parliament functions and explains that MPs need more time and resources to carry out their duties more efficiently.

Bonnici was elected for the first time ever in 2008, and this being his first legislature, Bonnici confesses that it took him a while to get acquainted to parliamentary life.  "If for example MPs are to be employed on a full-time basis this must be a long-term plan which cannot be introduced before the next election. Candidates must know from beforehand whether they will be working on a full-time basis and this will give them ample time to decide whether they are ready to be full-time MPs."

In recent weeks the Nationalist Party has embarked on a strategy to criticise the Labour Party for its past failures. Bonnici says that it is "important to remind people what happened a few years ago".

Asked whether this strategy is effective, especially with the younger generations, Bonnici admits that younger voters are too young to remember events that happened before their birth and says "it is more effective with the older generations and is certainly useful in galvanising the party's core vote".

In what might be an indication of the PN's electoral strategy, he then points out that the Labour Party and its leader Joseph Muscat are also responsible for more recent blunders.

He cites Muscat's anti-EU membership stance as an example and says that people must be aware that "if Muscat had his way, today we would not be enjoying the benefits of EU membership".  

MaltaToday polls have consistently shown that Labour enjoys a comfortable lead over the Nationalist Party, but Bonnici is confident that "the gap is shrinking" and he says that the PN has more than enough time "to convince the electorate that it has done enough to deserve the people's vote".

He adds that apart from the government's achievements in the last four years, the opposition has shown that it has no proposals and the few policies it has announced such as the 'youth guarantee' have already been shot down.

@rajah ha nghidu li hu New Nationalist mela hemm min ha jibqa Old Nationalist bhal GonziPn l-ewwel wiehed ghax il-poplu b-referendum ried id-divorzju u Gonzi & Co. xorta sa l-ahhar baqaw kontra, sorry ta, imma min biddel l-arma jew il-kulur ghax jien ma niftakarx blu qabel in 1987 ghax intom fl-arma taghkom ghandkom iswed u taf ta min huwa dak tal Faxxisti Taljani ta Mussolini . Tigi tmaqdar lil Perit Karmenu Vella ghax kien fil Gvern qabel in 1987 meta il-Labour ma halliex dejn anzi flus Lm500 riservi tad-deheb u assi ta €980million ghax daqshekk gew li bihhejtu intom, hu pacenzja u taqax ghaz-zuffjett.
@ Malonki..... kemm tinstema mahruq sihbi wara kollox il PN dejjem tela fil gvern bis sahha tal poplu sovran, igifieri kull kelma li qed tghid hija hmerija u bla bazi ta xejn. IL PN QATT ma iggverna kontra rieda tal poplu Malti, kif ghamel il partit socjalista tieghek. Mill kitba tieghek isek trid tghid li MLP biss jistaw isuru 'NEW' tghid ghaliex? Ghax forsi biddilna l-arma, lisem jew image tal partit. LOL. Forsi ghax kull meta jitkellem il lijder il gdid, ikun hemm background blue warajh, jew ghax forsi biddilna l-kulur ta lingravata? Jew ghax forsi il bniedem inkarigat biex jikteb il programm eletorali tal lejber ghal elezzjoni li gejja huwa l-istess bniedem li kien ministru socjalista fis 70's u 80's, ififieri fuq 40 sena ......... That is really NEW for the Labour Party Sur Maronki hahahahahaa !
NEW NATIONALIST? What does that mean. Does it mean that they do not love the facists anymore? The only thing new in this outdated party is the name, from Partito Nazzionalista to Democristiani to Gonzipn. But than what's in a name?
You left his educational attainments outs; I think this very important for the voters to choose the best people in government.
X'heading tad-dahk u bla sens ghal dan l-artikolu!!! Ara jekk Nationalist jistax ikun "new" !!!! Lanqas li ma nafux li n-Nazzjonalisti, fosthom id-deputati nazzjonalisti, jinteressahom BISS li jkunu fis-siggu tal-poter, li jimlew bwiethom u l-bwiet tal-klikka, li jmexxu 'l quddiem biss lil dawk li huma tal-qalba u blu bhalhom, li juzaw il-gid tal-pajjiz biex jinqdew huma, li jigu jitmellhu mill-hofor enormi li bihom jghabbu l-kaxxa tal-pajjiz, li jippretendu li ghandhom dritt li jmexxu huma biss il-pajjiz, li huma biss qaddisin .... XEJN GDID F'DAN KOLLU, L-ISTORJA TAS-SOLTU WARA KOLLOX !!!!!
New Nationalist and Old Labour or same Old Labour. This guy cannot understand how he was elected in Parliament, whatever he says first , later he realizes he was wrong in many statements he declared, and now as he knows he was wrong in many ways and he is trying to call himself the New Nationalist. Help us understand how he has changed in such a short time, Oh Oh I see General Election next year.
Anette B Cassar
There is already party financing in place. Unfortunately, it is only for party in government. Consider those glossy brochures that were sent out by ministries just before the last local council elections.