Opposition walks out of parliament, boycotts Steward vote: 'A parody of democracy'

House descends into chaos as Opposition walks out of debate on motion condemning Steward deal after Speaker allows government to amend motion outside its allotted time • Robert Abela lists Steward's achievements, promises to sue company only after NAO probe

Speaker Anglu Farrugia looks on as Opposition MPs throw dummy cheques in parliament to protest the Steward hospitals deal before walking out
Speaker Anglu Farrugia looks on as Opposition MPs throw dummy cheques in parliament to protest the Steward hospitals deal before walking out

The Opposition walked out of parliament and boycotted the vote on a motion it proposed to condemn the Steward hospitals deal after the Speaker allowed government to put forward an amendment outside its allotted time.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech accused the Speaker and government of rendering parliament "a parody of democracy" and insisted the Opposition was not going to play ball. MPs stood up and walked out of the rowdy sitting as they threw false cheques with €400 million written on them.

The development came after a heated exchange over the government's decision to present an amendment to the Opposition's motion in the time not allotted to it.

Speaker Anġlu Farrugia overruled Opposition objections, insisting that any extra time taken by the government to present the amendment would be awarded as extra time to the Opposition. The flashpoint came after Prime Minister Robert Abela took over an hour in what was a spirited defence of Steward Healthcare's investment in the three hospitals.

Abela overshot the time allotted to the government and at the end of his intervention failed to move the amendment.

The procedural altercation culminated with the Opposition walking out amid accusations that the Speaker was making a "parody of democracy".

A vote on the government amendment and the amended motion was taken at around 7pm with only the government MPs in parliament. Bernard Grech delivered his speech outside parliament in front of a sizeable crowd that gathered to protest.

Abela lists Steward's achievements

Just before the Opposition's walkout, Abela used a susbtantial part of his time to list the various investments and services Steward made in the hospitals in a bid to give the Opposition the lie over the money spent on the deal.

The Prime Minister's 'defence' of Steward jarred because the American company, which earlier today announced its departure from Malta, had not even listed its achievements in its defence during the court case.

Abela said that he will be asking the Auditor General to probe where all the public money passed on to Steward was invested and promised to take legal action to recoup any finances that were not spent properly. This means any action to sue Steward is still many years away.

At the start of his speech, Abela used Daphne Caruana Galizia to hit out at Adrian Delia in a remark deemed to be in bad taste on the day that marks 65 months since her murder.

Earlier, the House was the scene of another riotous exchange of accusations, as MPs began debating the Opposition’s motion condemning the Steward hospitals deal. The motion also asked for the government to sue Steward and recover public funds that were paid to it over the years.

The Speaker had to temporarily suspend the sitting in the midst of an altercation between Nationalist MP Adrian Delia and Prime Minister Robert Abela when the latter accused the PN MP of lying to the courts.

Delia challenged Abela to substantiate his allegation and repeat it outside parliament. "Tell me where I lied to the court. I won the case," Delia charged.

Abela dug his heels, insisting Delia was misquoting the court judgment when he implied the ruling attributed fraud to the government. "Nowhere does the judgment attribute fraud to the government," Abela replied.

Delia insisted that Abela should withdraw his statement that he lied to the courts. On order from the Speaker, Abela explained that Delia lied in his interpretation of the court judgment when he attributed fraud to the government.

The debate opened with Opposition MP Adrian Delia addressing Steward investors in English, accusing them of fraudulent behaviour and insisting MPs will not be bought.

Using forceful language, Delia rubbished the deal, saying it short-changed the public and allowed investors to run off with millions of euros with nothing to show for them.

Delia, who had opened the court case that ended last month with the judge rescinding the deal, said government officials had to shoulder responsibility for this deal.

He insisted, government must come clean on the amount of money that was spent from public funds so that it can initiate court action to recover these funds.

However, he slammed Prime Minister Robert Abela for only obliging himself now to take action to recover funds from the private investors. “Why have you only acted now after the horse has bolted? Why only now when they ran away with the money?”

In a hard-hitting speech, Delia pointed his finger at all the Cabinet for tagging along with this deal to the detriment of the Maltese people.

He then turned to Labour MPs who did not form part of the Joseph Muscat administration, asking them to back the motion and vote in favour of the Maltese people.