Tempers flare as MPs argue over breach of privilege hearing procedures

Speaker suspends committee meeting as opposition whip David Agius accuses government of turning it into a ‘kangaroo court,” while government MPs retort that PN leader had ‘nothing to say.’

Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia today temporarily suspended the parliamentary select committee for privileges which is hearing a breach of privilege complaint filed by the Prime Minister against the leader of the Opposition.

As MPs from both sides of the House got engaged in a shouting match over the procedures, Farrugia ordered his staff to turn off the microphones and webcams as he gingerly walked out of the room.

The committee met today to continue investigating a breach of privilege complaint filed by the Prime Minister against the leader of the opposition, however it was cut short as PN leader Simon Busuttil refused to give evidence.  

The matter goes back to October of last year, when during a parliamentary debate Joseph Muscat asked Simon Busuttil to withdraw or substantiate an allegation he made in his regard.

Then, Busuttil had "come to the logical political conclusion" that the Prime Minister had interfered in the police investigation against John Dalli. Busuttil had argued that a series of political actions, mainly the appointment of Peter Paul Zammit as Police Commissioner and the reappointment of the team investigating the Dalli case, led him to deduce that there had been political interference in the case.

As expected the meeting turned out to be dramatic, verging on the comic, with government MPs accusing Busuttil that his refusal to give evidence stemmed from the fact that he had nothing to say.

A handful of Nationalist MPs were present in the meeting to lend their support to Busuttil who the opposition claim could end up behind bars if found guilty of breaching parliamentary privilege. However, government sources have dispelled this notion, insisting the committee is not a court.

PN secretary-general Chris Said said that the agreement reached for tonight's meeting was to give the prime minister Joseph Muscat another opportunity to present new evidence and call new witnesses.

"Our position is very clear, we are asking the prime minister to officially declare that he has no further witnesses to appear," Said argued, insisting that the committee was a "court" which could impose a hefty punishment the leader of the opposition.

He added that the principles of natural justice demanded that the absence of new evidence by the prime minister should be recorded and the opposition would then decide how to proceed. 

However, deputy prime minister Louis Grech said that both parties had agreed that witnesses could be presented at any stage during the hearings.

Asked to clarify the government's position by the Speaker, Grech said "At this stage we have no witnesses, however we deserve the right to present new witnesses at a later stage."

Citing the minutes of a previous meeting, government whip Carmelo Abela said that Chris Said himself had said that both parties would have a right to present new witnesses at any stage. He added that the committee was not a court and the procedures decided in the first meeting had not changed.

Rebutting Abela's argument, Said insisted that the agreement was to allow the opposition to present its evidence once the prime minister had presented his evidence.

At this stage the meeting was suspended as PN whip David Agius loudly accused the government members Grech, Abela and Deborah Schembri of turning the committee into a 'Kangeroo court."

At one point Busuttil, who did not utter a word throughout the meeting, was heard saying that the meeting reminded him of North Korea, with government MPs retorting that Busuttil was refusing to give evidence because "he has nothing to say."

As MPs loudly argued despite warnings to keep calm, Agius was admonished by the Speaker to lower his voice, to which the MP retorted that Busuttil was being "processed by jury."

Farrugia said that the agreement reached was that if the prime minister does not indicate that he would present further witnesses in the third meeting, Busuttil would be expected to present his witnesses and evidence. However, he confirmed that both parties could present new evidence at any stage during the process.

This was recorded in the minutes after the meeting recommenced, with Grech saying that "at this stage the prime minister has no new evidence to present." 

Justifying Busuttil's refusal to give evidence, Said said that the leader of the opposition would not give evidence as the opposition needed time to "regularise its position." Farrugia adjourned the meeting to an unspecified date, when Busuttil is expected to give evidence. 

Oh please don't send Simon Busutill to prison! Lol! He is dying to be a 'Dun Mikiel Xerri' come lately! Lol! After Mattew Callus;Mikiel Anton Vassalli;Manwel Dimech; Nerik Mizzi;Mintoff......Simon Busutill! Lol!
You have to be responsible of what you say.
Segwejtu live, u nistqarr li ma rajt l-ebda Imhallef u l-ebda Gurati fil-kamra. U intom ? Veru kaz ta min irid jilghaba tal martri.
North Korea analogy does not hold water - if anything to learn that a politician must be prepared. In a senate committee maybe with less fuss but facts are necessary. The media abroad would ravage on a non-comment. The shining star still has to shine!