PM warns Parliament will meet in August heat if obstructionism continues

Parliamentary sitting temporarily suspended after Opposition whip calls for quorum • Labour MP and former Enemalta chairperson Charles Mangion says energy corporation had €50 million shortfall in Malta-Sicily interconnector budget

The House of Representatives this morning resumed its debate on the Enemalta Act, however, continuous interruptions led to a turbulent session with both sides of the House disagreeing on when Parliament should meet to continue discussing the bill which will transform the state’s energy corporation into a public limited company.

Following the adjournment, read out by economy minister Chris Cardona, in which government announced that Parliament would reconvene at 2pm, PN whip David Agius claimed that this was in breach of the standing orders and asked Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia to give a ruling.

After the Speaker turned down the opposition’s request for a ruling, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that government had an agreement with the opposition to hold all necessary sittings in July, since no sittings would be held in August.

The Prime Minister added that if the opposition continues its obstructionism, Parliament would meet into the summer months. “However, if the government’s legislative programme will not be completed this month, we will have no other option but to meet in August.”

Government’s intention, Muscat added, was to hold extra sessions today and tomorrow to avoid meeting on Saturday. However, Agius said that the opposition should be treated with more respect because “the Parliament’s barman and employees knew about this morning’s session before the opposition’s whip was informed.” 

Agius added that the opposition had no difficulty in cooperating and agreeing on additional sessions as long as the opposition is involved in the decision process on the programme of sittings.

Finally, an agreement was reached, with both sides of the House agreeing on meeting at 5pm on Thursday and hold a double session on Friday and another on Saturday to conclude the Enemalta debate.

Earlier, the sitting was temporarily suspended after opposition whip David Agius called for a quorum, following an off-mic comment by his government counterpart Carmelo Abela.

Later, the session was suspended for a second time, following the opposition's request for a ruling over whether this afternoon's session should have been dedicated to opposition MPs private motions or government's agenda. However, the Speaker of the House, Anglu Farrugia ruled that Parliament was correct in discussing government business this morning.

The alteration followed opposition MP Ryan Callus’s opening comment in which he said government’s last-minute decision to continue the debate this morning was  “disrespectful and arrogant.”

At this point opposition whip David Agius asked his government counterpart to retract an off-mic comment in which he presumably accused the opposition of obstructing parliamentary sessions.

In reply, Abela said that his comment was an off-the-cuff remark, which was not recorded, adding that Agius’ reaction meant that this might be true.

To this, Agius called for a quorum and the session was suspended since not enough MPs were present in the House.

€50 million shortfall in interconnector budget

Earlier, Labour MP Charles Mangion said that the new law would put the company on track while guaranteeing Enemalta’s employees jobs and ensure that government remains in control of distribution.

Mangion, who last year was appointed Enemalta chairperson before returning to Parliament earlier this year, accused the former PN administration of gross mismanagement.

Noting a €50 million shortfall in Enemalta’s budget for the completion of the Malta-Sicily interconnector, adding “if this lack of planning happened in the private sector it would have led to somebody being reprimanded and kicked in the backside.”

The MP also stressed that government would remain in control of distribution in the foreseeable future through the new company which government will own and control.

The Enemalta Act 2014 will transform the state’s energy corporation into a public limited company, absorbing all the assets, rights, liabilities and obligations of the corporation.

He added that the opposition’s attempts to shed doubts on the future of Enemalta employees were rich coming from a party which when in government did not keep its word with hundreds of workers formally employed at Telemalta and Sea Malta.

“Enemalta employees have their jobs guaranteed, with the new company taking over current obligations and responsibilities towards the workers, as stipulated by the collective agreements signed over the years,” he said.  

Enemalta Act will weaken Malta’s sovereignty

In his address, opposition MP Ryan Callus said that while Parliament was being asked to rubber stamp the Enemalta act, government had created and registered a new company two weeks ago.

He added “we are being asked to take a vote in the dark. We do not know what the Memorandum of Understanding with China stipulates and you expect us to vote in favour?”

Stressing that government should publish the agreements with the Chinese government and the long-term contract signed with the private sector for the purchase of gas, Callus said, “if you have nothing to hide, go on and publish them.”

Callus lambasted energy minister Konrad Mizzi for binding the country for 18 years by signing a contract to purchase energy from Electrogas, the company which will construct and operate the new gas power plant.

Arguing that government would only control a third of the company, he said the country would lose control on the generation of energy.

“You are weakening the country’s sovereignty and competitiveness. We will vote against the act because it is not in the country’s best interest,” Callus said.

Describing the situation as “surreal,” opposition MP Mario Galea said that Parliament could not have a healthy discussion because MPs “including government backbenchers are in the dark” over the agreements signed with China and Electrogas.

Adding that the Parliament was meeting in “hostile circumstances because government holds arrogance as a virtue,” Galea insisted “we have a right to ask for all the necessary information. Does this equate to negativism or obstructionism?”