Updated | ‘Busuttil’s real test to walk the talk’ – Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says MaltaToday report revealing that Joe Gaffarena paid €8,000 bill for construction works at Joe Cassar's home presents real chance for Simon Busuttil to walk the talk on political honesty • PN says Muscat is ignoring government's scandals

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has today urged PN leader Simon Busuttil to ‘walk the talk’ and take action against former health minister Joe Cassar after this newspaper revealed that the Opposition MP had an €8,150 bill for construction works at his Dingli farmhouse paid by Joe Gaffarena.

Despite not mentioning the property entrepreneur by name, the prime minister questioned whether Joe Cassar would refute the report. On Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that despite Cassar’s efforts at deflecting questions related to donations by Gaffarena, the Opposition MP had works done at his home financed by the Gaffarena patriarch.

The construction works were carried out at a time when Cassar was health minister, implying that he should have declared Gaffarena’s financing as a gift.

“Joe Cassar might tell us that he does not know who paid for the works, but rest assured, I bet he knows that he did not pay for it,” Muscat said.

In a dig at former finance minister Tonio Fenech, the prime minister said that Nationalist MPs first had forgotten about receiving a clock, and that presently, the party’s MPs are forgetting about cars.

The prime minister questioned whether Opposition leader Simon Busuttil would now take action against Joe Cassar, arguing however, that in spite of the revelations, the PN leader will once again refuse to do so. 

“This is the real test for Simon Busuttil to walk the talk [on political honesty]. I am convinced, however, that Simon Busuttil will now come out as Mr Double Standards,” he said.

Muscat said that if this were to happen, it would not be the first time that Busuttil stood by his MPs. Ostensibly referring to Nationalist MP Claudio Grech, Muscat said that the PN leader failed to take action against “an MP who had swore that he had never met a person involved in the oil scandal.” Muscat – as well as fellow Labour Party officials – has repeatedly questioned Busuttil’s credentials after the PN leader failed to take action against Nationalist MP Claudio Grech. Grech, who previously served in Austin Gatt’s personal secretariat, had swore before the Public Accounts Committee that he had met Farrugia in 2012 – only for MaltaToday to reveal that he had in fact met the pardoned oil trader before.

Meanwhile, in a reaction, the Nationalist Party – whose leader said on Saturday that the media reports surrounding Joe Cassar sought to deviate the public’s attention from the government’s scandals – took exception at Joseph Muscat after the prime minister failed to mention the scandals involving the Algerian consulate and the General Workers Union.

“Muscat chose to ignore reports on the issuance of visas by the Maltese consulate in Algeria and the scandal involving the GWU which revealed that the Union had to pay at least €3.2 million before it could lease the building,” the PN said.

Taking a swipe at Busuttil, the prime minister also spoke of his “pride” at how the government – as well as the police – uncovered the ongoing abuse at Identity Malta. Insisting that the abuse had been ongoing for years, Muscat said that the arraignment of four Identity Malta employees on bribery charges, would uncover more irregularities which had been ignored by PN governments.

Playing down the withholding of €11 million in European funds for the Coast Road project, Muscat sought to lay the blame on the misgivings of previous Nationalist governments.

Muscat dismissed claims that the government had not respected public procurement rules, instead arguing that it had respected all contracts entered into by the previous administrations. The prime minister also insisted that the money would be diverted towards other projects, and that the government safeguarded the European taxpayers’ money.

Championing the government’s budgetary measures, the prime minister said that 160,000 people would be benefitting from income tax reductions, while around 23,000 pensioners would be benefitting from an increase in pensions. In addition, pensioners, who according to Muscat are at the greatest risk of falling into poverty, will be benefitting from other measures.