Updated | Budget 'irrelevant' as PN MPs pounce on government after Keith Schembri’s arrest

Opposition MPs insist that Saturday’s arrests were not a sign of functioning institutions but a result of inquiries triggered following reports filed by Simon Busuttil  

Opposition MPs disregarded the budget in a parliamentary debate that started on Monday morning as they focussed on the arrest of Keith Schembri. 

As parliament rose to debate the Budget Implementation Bill, Opposition MPs took a cue from Eddie Fenech Adami’s historical 1986 speech when he deemed the budget debate irrelevant following the murder of Raymond Caruana. 

The decision for Nationalist Party MPs to focus all their speeches on the political ramifications of the arrests was announced on Sunday by party leader Bernard Grech following a meeting of the parliamentary group. 

Labour MPs generally ignored the issues raised by the Opposition. The only one to dedicate his whole speech to address the issues was Ian Castaldi Paris.

‘Small step towards justice’ 

PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami
PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami

Former PN deputy leader and home affairs spokesperson Beppe Fenech Adami acknowledged that last Saturday, the country experienced “a small step towards justice” but insisted this was triggered by two inquiries sought by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil. 

“You had ridiculed us to shut us up.  But you failed to understand that in the end the truth prevails,” Fenech Adami said.  

He recalled that Busuttil was mocked for presenting the courts with ‘empty boxes’ on the same case on which the suspects were arrested and charged on Saturday.   

“Self-respect demands that the government side admits its error in defending what was wrong,” Fenech Adami said. 

He also lashed out against the Labour Party and government for defending Keith Schembri in the past. 

“You were part of this government… you had chosen Robert Abela because he represented continuity with Muscat… You cannot say that you have nothing to do with this. This happened on your watch and you should shoulder political responsibility,” Fenech Adami said. 

He also accused the Prime Minister for propagating the narrative, which insinuated that Caruana Galizia’s children were undermining investigations.  

Fenech Adami also reached out to the government side. 

“I am sure there are Labour MPs including new ones who were not there who have no part of this. Let’s come clean and cooperate together to ensure that the truth prevails,” he said. 

Galea strikes conciliatory tone towards Labour supporters 

PN MP Mario Galea
PN MP Mario Galea

Mario Galea the first Nationalist MP to speak presented a conciliatory speech addressed to “genuine” Labour supporters. 

He even praised speaker Anglu Farrugia for his discomfort in 2013 with what happened on the “fourth floor” in Labour’s headquarters. 

“How right you were to feel uncomfortable… because your only problem was that you were honest and not corrupt.  That is why Muscat removed you,” Galea said. 

He also expressed his conviction that most Labour MPs are honest.   

“I do not believe that this parliament is split between angels on this side and devils on the other side,” Galea said. 

He even expressed “sympathy” for those arrested last Saturday.   

“They were under the impression that they could do anything with impunity… but how is it possible that Muscat did not smell anything?” 

Galea also challenged Labour’s narrative that the arrests showed that the institutions are working.  

“If the institutions were working it would not have been up to Simon Busuttil to ask the police to investigate… the investigation would have commenced by the police, this is why the institutions were not working,” Galea said. 

Nationalist MP Edwin Vasallo also pressed on the point that Saturday’s arraignments were the result of the inquiries asked for by the Opposition. 

He also called on the PM to ask his MPs one by one whether they were involved in the “big job” alleged by Vince Muscat in his court testimony. 

Schiavone apologises to Busuttil 

PN MP Hermann Schiavone
PN MP Hermann Schiavone

PN MP Hermann Schiavone also praised former leader Simon Busuttil and apologised for having harboured doubts in the past about the former leader’s corruption claims. 

Schiavone also made it a point to absolve those who voted Labour in 2013 and 2017 for any responsibility for what happened.   

“They have no blame. They voted for change and have no fault for doing so. They did so because they were hurt by previous Nationalist government and were justified and genuinely believed in Joseph Muscat’s Malta Tagħna Lkoll promise, only now to discover that the only road map was that of the criminal clique which hijacked the labour party to pocket more money,” Schiavone said. 

‘We have to ensure justice prevails’ – Castaldi Paris 

PL MP Ian Castaldi Paris
PL MP Ian Castaldi Paris

Labour MP Ian Castaldi Paris was the only government MP to address the instances raised by the Opposition. 

“We have to ensure that justice is made with regards to Caruana Galizia,” he said, adding that nothing could compensate for the pain caused to her family.  

He also praised the police for its work.   

“I am not here to attack the Opposition… But let’s all recognise that we have a Prime Minister who is not afraid to take the necessary decisions… Let’s now pull the same rope to ensure we obtain results.  Let us not look backward but forward,” Castaldi Paris said.

PN MP Claudette Pace welcomed the conciliatory speech by Castaldi Paris, noting that he was the only government MP who expressed “remorse” on the murder of Caruana Galizia.

She recalled that Labour MPs had twice voted against motions presented by the Opposition asking for the removal of Keith Schembri when his Panama company was flagged in 2016.

‘No lessons on good governance from Opposition’

Innovation Minister Owen Bonnici
Innovation Minister Owen Bonnici

Innovation Minister Owen Bonnici referred to various legislative steps the government took over the past eight years such as the party financing law, the Whistle Blower Act, the removal of criminal libel and the grilling of public officials.

“In eight years, we have revamped the institutional structures… I am open to proposals from the Opposition but I will not take lessons on good governance from it,” Bonnici said.

‘Governance problems undermine stability’

PN MP Claudio Grech
PN MP Claudio Grech

PN MP Claudio Grech warned of dire consequences to the economy if the current political situation and the pandemic is not resolved.

“This government found a country which enjoyed a good international reputation welcoming legitimate businesses. In eight years of Labour government we have arrived at a situation where one of the top government officials ended up in the dock,” he said.

Grech acknowledged the high growth rate under a Labour government but expressed concern on the mentality of running the country as private company.

“A company has one aim which is profit.  On the other hand, the government has other values and ends.” 

He also asked “how can the government focus on creating economic niches when it is constantly firefighting self-inflicted scandals?”

Grech warned the problems with governance undermined the “stability” required for economic prosperity and its fair redistribution.

Nationalist MP and spokesperson for education Clyde Puli spoke on the need for reform to strengthen democracy including public financing of the media, state financing of political parties and a full-time parliament

“Corrupt people will always exist.  That is why there is an urgency to take steps to strengthen the democratic structures…” Puli said, hoping that both parties would agree on a reform package that reduces the undue influence of big business on politics.