The roots of the Debono-Gonzi clash

Tension between Franco Debono and Lawrence Gonzi began long before their public fall-out in 2009

The disagreements between Lawrence Gonzi and Franco Debono started well before the first public fallout in December 2009, with email correspondence between the two showing that the former MP had been calling for institutional reforms long before he refused to attend Parliament in 2009.

Sources close to the newly-appointed Law Commissioner told MaltaToday that Debono had long warned then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in a series of emails and text messages.

The tough language used in the emails was in reference to the lack of accountability and transparency, the sources said, adding that in some of his messages Debono expressed his frustration by likening the PN administration to a dictatorship and Malta's situation to 1789 France.

Despite claims that Debono's messages were over the top, the sources said that while the former MP was hurt over the way he was treated by the PN leadership, he always maintained a civilised tone in his messages.

The problems between Debono and Gonzi's administration seem to have stemmed from the manner Debono and other candidates were treated by the PN's higher echelons before the 2008 general election.

Gonzi's insistence in ignoring Debono's calls for change were the reason why the dissenting MP went public with his disagreements.

The sources said Debono was frustrated from the very beginning of the Gonzi administration due to the complete lack of consultation with MPs, however the situation worsened following the dismal PN performance in the 2009 European Parliament election.

In a number of emails sent to Gonzi and his right-hand-man Edgar Galea Curmi, Debono stressed the urgency of introducing institutional reforms and urged the former Prime Minister to "return the country to the people".

Debono declined to comment on these emails when contacted by MaltaToday, insisting that it was "water under the bridge".

Sources close to the Ghaxaq lawyer said that despite concerted efforts by the Gonzi administration to gag him, Debono refrained from voting against government in the early days of the legislature and did his utmost to keep the disgruntlement an internal affair.

However, the former MP could no longer keep the matter private following efforts to undermine his credibility and Gonzi's complete disregard to Debono's calls for reform.

Apparently the bulk of Debono's emails and SMSes to Gonzi centred on the need to implement reforms in parliament, in the justice and home affairs sector and party financing. Yet, despite Gonzi's assurances that the reforms would be introduced, he did not follow through with them until the end.

In his emails, Debono also warned the former prime minister of the behaviour of certain MPs outside of parliament. However, these warnings fell on deaf ears.

A number of emails which Debono sent to Gonzi, Galea Curmi and Malta's former EU ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana, were also addressed to former justice and home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

These emails were related to Mifsud Bonnici's performance during his tenure, which subsequently led to his resignation after Debono backed an Opposition motion of no confidence in the minister.

In his messages, Debono argued that Mifsud Bonnici was not fit for office, citing the disastrous state of the justice and home affairs sector, most notably courts and the Corradino Correctional Facility.

MaltaToday is informed that in late 2011, when Mr Justice Michael Mallia said that the ease with which the former inmate Josette Bickle managed to smuggle drugs into jail pointed to "collusion" with the prison authorities, Debono had sent a number of SMSes to Gonzi while the former was eating at a Chinese restaurant.

In these messages, Debono pointed out that the court sentence had proved his calls correct and asked what the Prime Minister would be doing about the matter. In his replies, Gonzi evidently agreed that the sector needed a major overhaul and promised Debono that he would address the situation imminently.

However, these reforms never happened and Debono took the issue up with the Nationalist administration's eminence grise, Richard Cachia Caruana. It seems that Cachia Caruana dismissed the court sentence, insiting that it was not within the judge's responsibility to comment on the state of Maltese prisons.

Debono, who had a good relationship with Cachia Caruana, had underpinned the importance of carrying out a reform in the sector. However, the former permanent representative had brushed off the criticism, claiming that Mifsud Bonnici was a "good minister". Asked why he believed Mifsud Bonnici was performing well, Cachia Caruana replied that the European Commission had enjoyed a presentation by the former minister.

The former MP also criticised Mifsud Bonnici's apparently unassailable position due to his family connections and reminded Gonzi of the Wikileaks cables in which Mifsud Bonnici was described by the US embassy as "not particularly competent".

Carm Mifsud Bonnici is the son of former PN minister and President of the Republic - Ugo - and nephew of former Chief Justice Joseph, while his cousin Edgar Galea Curmi was Gonzi's chief of staff.

In these emails, Debono would insist that Mifsud Bonnici would not have remained at the helm of the ministry (principally during his brief illness), and the former PN dissident would point out in his messages that if Mifsud Bonnici was a gentleman, he should have had the humility to resign when it was evident he would lose the vote of confidence.

However, the majority of Debono's emails centred around the need for institutional reform, and the sources close to the MP explained that he persistently called for more accountability and transparency (in his inimitable fashion).

In reply to Debono's persistent complaints, Gonzi would insist that the reforms would be introduced, with the exception of the split of the justice and home affairs ministry in January 2012, most of his promises - such as the introduction of a reform in courts, the whistleblowers' act and the party financing law - were shelved and never discussed in parliament.

Other main points of contention were the attempts to discredit and "destroy" Debono by The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Public Broadcasting Services and The Times, according to the sources close to the former MP.

In his emails, while insisting that he would fight to defend the freedom of expression, Debono complained about the "psychological violence" he was suffering.

MaltaToday is also informed that at the height of the tensions between Debono and Gonzi at the end of 2011, the former MP had decided to go abroad during the vital Budget vote.

However, the Nationalist Party secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier had convinced Debono to stay and promised to reimburse the flight Debono had booked to Rome. Yet, it seems that Debono never received the money for the air ticket he never got to use.

 

More in National
avatar
Franco in the final analysis was proved right, while it`s expression was much to be desired. And is it true that the PN were spying with micro-cameras on there own people during the dalli-gonzi election while councillors were actually voting ?
avatar
I go even a step further. Franco Debono was and is being used as a divisive tool. He was not only used to divide the PN Parliamentary group but is now also being used to divide the country. Those who attach themselve to Franco Debono including the most powerful are running high risk of being divisive themselves.
avatar
Debono forgot that it was Nationalist voters who put him into parliament -- and by using his seat to hold the party to ransom, he betrayed those who voted for him. Debono has shown himself to be nothing but another opportunist, more interested in himself than anything or anybody else. The PN is far, far better off without him -- and should be careful to keep people like him and JPO, who have shown no loyalty to the party, and who have only worked to further their own interests, OUT of the party!
avatar
Emmanuel Mallia
Very simple to define, Debono is living in the future and Gozi stuck into the past, with his diplomatic, distorted policy. Not to mention, that Gonzi was the puppet of the two so called advisers working at the back helm of PN. Simon, is no different ! Those two are now assured of continuity !
avatar
'joedebone, don't remember you posting on mT before the elections. Your puerile attempt to discredit Franco, PL and Maltatoday will not succeede sinch it is childish and infantile. You might have convinced some readers of the Beano or Dandy but here .......
avatar
Il-PN tilef gawhra, fi zmien meta ebda mignun ma jemmen li l-PN mizghud bihom
avatar
All attempts to cover up the fact that Debono let himself be a tool in the hands of the PL will fail. Readers are increasingly getting the feeling that Malta Today has long become such a tool itself. Such behaviour becomes inevitable when personal grudges win the upper hand. Journalism should be of another quality.