Rumpus in parliament after Julie Zahra pushes minister on national orchestra sex harassment

Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and PN spokesperson Julie Zahra in parliamentary tit for tat on sexual harassment case at national orchestra

Julie Zahra lashed out at government MPs for 'laughing' in parliament after she repeatedly questioned the Culture Minister on the sexual harassment incident at the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

"There is nothing amusing about questioning sexual harassment charges inside the national orchestra," the Nationalist MP hit out during parliamentary question time.

"He who laughs last, laughs best," Bonnici replied during the tense moment in which he was put on the spot by Zahra over his actions in this case.

Bonnici once again defended his decision to refer the victim to the gender-based violence commissioner, while not suspending the orchestra's top brass until police charges were eventually filed in court.

On Monday, on TVM’s Xtra, Bonnici admitted taking no immediate steps to temporarily suspend the national orchestra’s top brass when he became aware of sexual harassment claims last September.

Zahra has been urging Bonnici to shoulder political responsibility and resign for his failure to protect the victim.

In parliament on Tuesday, Zahra pressed the point that the minister should have acted more forcefully after the victim contacted him, rather then "just directing her to the gender-based violence commissioner."

Bonnici was also accused by Zahra of influencing media coverage of the sexual misconduct case when he called a reporter on Sunday afternoon. Bonnici responded by saying that the journalist worked for NET TV and he was only "correcting inaccurate information in an article".

"It beggars belief that I would expect to control a NET journalist but I had a duty to ensure that the report provided accurate information," Bonnici said. NET TV is the PN's media arm.

But Bonnici also tried to turn the tables on Zahra when he said that she had accompanied the orchestra on an "enjoyable trip overseas" and questioned whether the PN MP knew about the sexual harassment sooner than she is letting on. "If you knew, you also had the same responsibility to act," Bonnici insisted.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech interjected, insisting that PN MPs abroad on business did not "enjoy" themselves but performed the duties requested of them.

A Malta Philharmonic Orchestra official has already admitted to sexual harassment of a young musician while MPO chief Sigmund Mifsud was separately charged with suborning the victim into not giving any evidence. Mifsud denied the charges and was remanded in custody.

The case against Mifsud continues.