[WATCH] Thousands attend PN's anti-corruption protest • Farrugia says people missing out due to corruption

[CONSTANTLY UPDATED] Castille Square packed with thousands of demonstrators • Former Labour MP Marlene Farrugia will join Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in addressing PN’s protest against corruption

Independent MP Marlene Farrugia addressing the crowd during the PN's anti-corruption protest • Photos: Ray Attard
Independent MP Marlene Farrugia addressing the crowd during the PN's anti-corruption protest • Photos: Ray Attard
Thousands of people gathered at Castille to attend the PN's protest against corruption • Photos: Ray Attard
Thousands of people gathered at Castille to attend the PN's protest against corruption • Photos: Ray Attard
Marlene Farrugia says people missing out due to corruption

Thousands of people answered the Opposition’s call for a protest against corruption convened in the wake of revelations that energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri used offshore companies in Panama.

Crowds of people of all ages packed Castille Square, waving Maltese flags, holding placards, and even wearing Panama hats, the obvious signifier for the Panama leaks.

The anti-corruption protest was convened by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil after the leak of the Panama Papers found that Mizzi and Schembri held offshore companies in Panama to hide their beneficial ownership and then linking them up to offshore trusts in New Zealand.

Demonstrators who gathered at Castille Square carried an assorted of placards saying ‘Out’ and ‘Barra’ while others stated ‘Shame on You’, ‘We love Panama Papers’ and ‘Corruption Out’, amongst others.

The protest was led by former Nationalist MEP candidate Norman Vella. Armed with a microphone on a stage, Vella repeatedly chanted “Shame on You” on a loop, as well as chants calling on the resignation of Konrad Mizzi, Schembri and Joseph Muscat.

The protest was attended by several PN officials, Opposition MPs, Nationalist MEPs, as well as Judge Giovanni Bonello - the chair of the justice reform commission who was recently tasked with chairing an internal inquiry into allegations that Keith Schembri paid kickbacks to former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman.

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The protest was addressed by former KSU president Carl Grech, the head of the anti-divorce movement in 2011 Arthur Galea Salomone, independent MP Marlene Farrugia and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

People missing out due to the corruption - Marlene Farrugia

In her address, former Labour MP Marlene Farrugia said people were missing out as a direct result of the corruption scandals that have engulfed the country. Cheered on by thousands of demonstrators who gathered at Castille Square, Farrugia said the money which funded corruption should have been used in social justice and a better standard of living.

In a powerful speech, the now-independent MP said that the public always rises “when the country is in need.”

“I was there with the public in the eighties when democracy was threatened, with Muscat before the last election and here with you today,” she told the cheering crowd.

"Muscat said in his speech today that Malta is changing but we want it to change for the better not for the worse. It is not enough to have a strong economy, which after all is the fruit of 25 years of a PN government."

The former Labour MP said that the public punished the Nationalist Party for corruption in the last election. "It is now up to them to change, and that is what they are trying to do," she said to a round of applause.

“The government says Malta is changing. It is and that is why we are here. We want change, but for the better,” she rallied.

"What is corruption? Corruption bears the face of the woman who needs cancer medication but has to beg to the MCCF, it bears the face of the warden who has to give tickets or risk losing his job. It has the face of lost opportunities, the taxes that they have invested in their country that are supposed to be used to promote social inclusion.”

“I wonder where this money goes. Does it go somewhere that does not see the light of day?” she quipped.

Panama Papers puts Malta's financial services sector at risk - Arthur Galea Salomone

Lawyer Arthur Galea Salamone, former chairman of the Malta Stock Exchange, told the crowds that the scandal has placed Malta's thriving financial services sector under threat. 

"If we want the sector to remain respectable, then the people in power must not compromise on professional seriousness. If Muscat wants to have the moral authority to defend the sector, he cannot drag his feet over the scandal."

Galea Salamone - who had campaigned against divorce in 2011 - urged Muscat to "set personal interests aside for the sake of national interests" and to "stop defending the indefensible and excusing the inexcusable".

"We risk reversing our success in the financial services sector," he said. "Hear the cries of people who have the country's interests at heart. 

He also said that the Prime Minister could not have the “moral authority” to speak and defend his chief of staff and energy minister Konrad Mizzi, saying Muscat should not wait until the findings of the audit before taking action.

On his part, lawyer and former KSU president Carl Grech, who warned that democracy is under threat.

"Mizzi and Schembri started the process to open up their companies only five days after the election," he said. "This scandal has smeared Malta's name and reputation across the world, and risks putting off investment and harming the economy. 

"The deafening silence from the Prime Minister's part only raises more suspicions. How can Muscat still say that Malta belongs to everyone when he is ignoring his own ministers' advice to kick out Mizzi?" he asked.