Labour majority votes against PN’s anti-corruption laws

Opposition’s anti-corruption Bill defeated in parliament  

File photo
File photo

The Nationalist Party’s package of anti-corruption Bills have not received a majority in the House of Representatives, and so will not move to the Third reading.

The PN had unveiled a package of 11 legislative Bills to fight corruption and mafia-style crimes, in line with recommendations made by the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

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.

Addressing the House before the vote, Nationalist leader Bernard Grech said the government would be voting against the Bill “just because it was filed by the Opposition.”

“You will not be voting against the Opposition, you will be voting against Malta, you will be voting against our children, you will be voting in favour of criminality,” he said.

The Opposition leader cited a number of independent newspaper editorials, saying it was praised by a number of stakeholders.

“They all say the same thing, your lack of action is what makes Malta a mafia-state,” he said.

Grech said the Opposition was forced to propose the Bills following government’s inaction seven months after conclusions from the Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana were published. “We are here because we have on obligation to see our country move forward.”

“We are not afraid of laws which curb your criminal activity in government,” he said. “You will vote against a Bill which hold politicians responsible, which make politicians respect the authority they have.”

Prime Minister Robert Abela

Addressing the House before Bernard Grech, Prime Minister Robert Abela said the country has never had a system of checks and balances “as good as it has today.”

“We aren’t bothered by scrutiny. This reformist government has enacted changes which you never did,” he told the Opposition.

He accused the Opposition of attempting to stagnate the country’s economy. “There is a hidden motive behind these Bills – you want to scare people, you want to stagnate the country’s economy. This tactic did not work in 2014, it did not work in a pandemic, and it will not work now.”

He also said the Opposition was not respecting the public inquiry findings, saying the PN lumped all of the Bills into one group and expecting a vote to take place after just three hours of discussion.

“You expect us to decide on such complex issues in three hours for some political stunt?” he said. “This is the respect you have for the inquiry?”

He also called out MPs Jason Azzopardi and Karol Aquilina for “wanting to send someone to prison”. “That is the difference between us, my aim is to give better wages and better pensions in next year’s Budget.”

“This is a question of credibility, and it is this side of the House which has the credibility to enact reforms,” he said. “They preach good governance, but practice the opposite.”

“Why didn’t you enact these changes you speak so highly of before 2013? You were prepared to risk a government in order to not enact them. Before 2013 they wanted the right to rule, not the rule of law.”

Jason Azzopardi

In the opening remarks, PN MP Jason Azzopardi commemorated Daphne Caruana Galizia and her legacy, saying that in the aftermath of her murder, a beacon of hope was lit.

"This is not a declaration about the society we are but about the society we want to be," Azzopardi said. "Anyone voting against the Bill, will be voting against the public inquiry recommendations."

He stressed that the principles in the Bill, are all common sense and that everyone should be able to agree on them.

Azzopardi then listed a series of events, in which he said politicians colluded with criminals, like in the HSBC heist and the tipping off on police raids in relation to the accused in the Caruana Galizia murder, saying the principles of the Bill fight such practices.

Therese Comodini Cachia

Addressing the House, MP Therese Comodini Cachia said Malta’s democracy needs to “mature”.

“It had to be the Opposition to present these legal amendments,” she said.

The MP said government has to step in to protect journalists. “We are not here for some political gimmick. Neither was it a political gimmick when civil society was warning that government is threating the life of a journalist, and when Caruana Galizia had warned that government is riddled with corruption.”

Quoting the Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruna Galizia, Comodini Cachia said conclusions highlighted government’s responsibility in the murder.

“The state did not realise the immediate risk to her death, and that is why we are here,” she said.

“We must ensure that journalists, who are still facing threats are protected,” the MP said. “If we do not protect press liberty, we have not learnt anything.”

Edward Zammit Lewis

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis called the PN’s Bills a “Potpourri of Bills”.

“This is a Bill of take it or leave it,” he said. “What kind of consultation is this? When we have to vote on the same date?”

He said issues concerning good governance were already present during the PN’s time in government. “Issues were highlighted during the PN administration’s time. Why did they didn’t do anything?”

He concluded by saying it is the government side of the House which enjoys a track record of reforms. “We are the government of the rule of law."

Karol Aquilina

In the last nine years, we spoke of scandal after scandal, and we warned that things have to change. “From Café Premiere, to 17 Black, to Rosianne Cutajar’s case, to the Montenegro Windfarm, the scandals have not stopped under Labour.”

He said the mafia has taken hold of the country.

“The Prime Minister should stop making absurd statements on Sunday morning,” he said. “If the PM wants to send the message that we are not a mafia-state, he should do so by voting in favor not against the Bills.”

“The people on the government side, when Caruana Galizia was murdered, they didn’t do anything. Not even that murder could change their mind.”

He said the PM “and his friends” do not want to fight the mafia, because it would mean they would be fighting their own government.

“For this country to truly fight the mafia, we need Bernard Grech as Prime Minister Robert Abela, because you are still in debt to the mafia,” he said.