Updated | Speaker forces Mizzi to deliver ministerial statement after PN 'political courage' call

Speaker suspends parliament to deliver ruling on whether health minister Konrad Mizzi, and not parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne, should be forced to deliver ministerial statement

Speaker Anglu Farrugia has ordered health and energy minister Konrad Mizzi to deliver a ministerial statement, instead of health parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne.

Fearne was about to deliver a ministerial statement on an inquiry on alleged abuse at the Addolorata Cemetery, when Opposition whip David Agius called for a Speaker's ruling on whether Mizzi should the deliver the statement himself.

Farrugia ruled that Mizzi must deliver the statement, but that Fearne should be able to answer follow-up questions on the inquiry's findings.

Mizzi is in the midst of a political controversy, involving an offshore company he had set up in Panama and a trust he had set up in New Zealand.

“It is supposed to be a ministerial statement after all, and the minister [Mizzi] himself is present in the House,” he said.

Justice minister Owen Bonnici interjected, arguing that parliamentary secretaries are constitutionally bound to assist ministers in their work.

“That work includes their parliamentary duties, and nowhere does the law exclude parliamentary secretaries from delivering ministerial statements in the minister’s stead.”

However, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco accused Mizzi of “shunning his responsibility to address the House” and called on him to “have the political courage” to deliver a ministerial statement.

Mizzi stood up and accused the Opposition of trying to manipulate the news.

“It is strange that the Opposition are trying to make a news item out of this, rather than the inquiry, especially when [shadow health minister] Claudette Buttigieg had come up with several allegations of abuse at the cemetery,” he said. “I have no problem answering the Opposition MPs' questions after the ministerial statement.”

Following a request by the Opposition benches, Anglu Farrugia suspended the House to deliver a ruling.

Earlier in today's session, Chris Fearne had also stood up to answer a parliamentary question on overdoses that was addressed to Mizzi. The parliamentary secretary has in the past answered health-related PQs that were addressed to Mizzi, even when the minister was present in the House. 

Fearne also responded subsequent supplementary questions by Labour MPs Anthony Agius Decelis, Franco Mercieca and Joe Sammut on the recent rise in HIV cases due to unprotected sex amongst gay men.

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