Abela closes door on PN anti-corruption Bills, dubbing them ‘electoral gimmick’

Prime Minister says author of PN anti-corruption Bills, Jason Azzopardi, is “incompatible with good governance”

Robert Abela was interviewed by journalist Fabian Demicoli
Robert Abela was interviewed by journalist Fabian Demicoli

Prime Minister Robert Abela has called a raft of 12 legislative bills proposed by the Nationalist Party “a pre-electoral gimmick”.

Addressing a Labour Party rally commemorating his second year as prime minister, Abela closed the door on discussion on the bills in parliament, by dubbing the anti-corruption proposals “a gimmick and a political stunt”.

The Bills include a proposal for a special inquiring magistrate tasked to fight corruption, new crimes targeting mafia-style organisations and unjustified wealth, and rules for interim governments during electoral campaigns.

Abela also accused the author of the Bills, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, of lacking the credibility to be their proponent.

“The Opposition has a problem, its lack of credibility, especially of the laws’ author, who was once a parliamentary secretary, and whose behaviour at the time was compatible with anything but good governance,” Abela said without mentioning Azzopardi’s name.

“You cannot have laws promoted by someone who is incompatible with good governance.” Abela said.

The prime minister said his administration had been working on new laws to reflect the recommendations of the Caruana Galizuia public inquiry, saying it had met the Caruana Galizia family, held discussions with the Institute of Maltese Journalists, MEPs, the international press, and other stakeholders.

“That process of dialogue and these ideas were turned into Bills. Instead of just throwing it all into one pot... we proposed an anti-SLAPP law to protect journalists from expensive lawsuits, criminal penalties for attacks on journalists, reduced court fees, and laws which are indeed at the forefront of European laws.”

Abela said these laws have now been passed on to a committee of press experts and newspapers editors who will be analysing them before they are presented to the House. “This is how things should be done, rather than scoring politcial goals – this is not something we should be winning votes on.”

The Nationalist Party unveiled a package of 12 legislative Bills to fight corruption and mafia-style crimes that will include the creation of a special inquiring magistrate to focus solely on corruption by public officers.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech accused Prime Minister Robert Abela of inaction on the recommendations of the Caruana Galizia public inquiry’s findings and the FATF greylisting, and said the culture of impunity that allowed the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia still reigned under Labour.

The Bills include proposals limiting government’s duties and actions during an election campaign; a special inquiring magistrate to focus only on corruption investigations; the creation of a crime of procuring political influence, obstruction of justice, and omission of duty by public officers; unexplained wealth orders; creation of a crime for mafia association and organised crime; as well as a Bill to include a declaration in favour of journalism, to be enshrined in the Maltese Constitution.

But Labour Whip Glenn Bedingfield has said the government side will not be allowing a package of anti-corruption Bills moved by the Opposition, because they contain elements of a money bill.

Bedingfield told MaltaToday the PN’s motion to discuss 12 legislative proposals aimed at tackling corruption and trading in influence, but also to introduce rules for governments during electoral campaigns, had characteristics of a money bill that precluded him from consenting to its first reading in the House. “I would be going against the rules of the House and the Constitution,” Bedingfield said.

According to the Whip, Article 73 of the Constitution does not allow the House to proceed on any Bill that could impose any tax, charge on revenues, or which requests that provision is made for its purposes, unless it is ‘recommended’ by a minister to the Speaker of the House.