Busuttil says Cabinet re-shuffle exposed Muscat’s ‘weakness’

PN leader Simon Busuttil says prime minister ignored advice of Labour MPs to retain Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri

Joseph Muscat’s “farcical” Cabinet re-shuffle could deliver a fatal blow to the prime minister’s political career as it exposed his weakness, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said today.

Hitting out at Muscat for “ignoring” the electorate in order to further his own personal interests, the PN leader insisted Malta will continue suffering from instability because the prime minister lost the people’s trust and betrayed the electorate.

“Joseph Muscat’s decision revealed a fundamental error of judgment: he is unable to distinguish between right and wrong. It was a politically fatal mistake as serious as when [former Labour prime minister] Alfred Sant had wanted to ignore the outcome of the EU referendum,” he said.

On Thursday, the prime minister announced a Cabinet re-shuffle in response to Panamagate, but in what was interpreted by critics as a cosmetic measure aimed at quelling public outrage, Konrad Mizzi, the minister under pressure to resign for having opened an offshore firm in Panama, was not sacked. Instead, he was kept as a minister ‘without portfolio’, keeping him under the purview in the Office of the Prime Minister. The OPM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was also retained, despite having admitted to also opening a company in Panama.

“The prime minister acted as if Keith Schembri had not done anything wrong, even though he set up the Panama company after taking up his post in the government. He told Schembri that he still enjoys his ‘trust’’ but I wonder, does this mean confidence, the trust in New Zealand, or both?” Busuttil rallied.

Once again, the PN leader pulled no punches in denouncing the prime minister’s “complicity” in the whole Panamagate scandal, arguing that by retaining Mizzi and Schembri, Muscat was tacitly endorsing a public servant who opened a company in Panama.

“Muscat is an accomplice with Mizzi and Schembri either because he participated in their activities, or because he is covering up their wrongdoing. He is defending them, it is about time he shouldered the political responsibility himself,” Busuttil said.

The PN leader argued that there are enough suspicions to suggest that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were guilty of wrongdoing, insisting that it was wrong for Muscat to say that the two had not done anything illegal.

“They [Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri] broke the law as they failed to declare their New Zealand trusts with the Commissioner of Inland Revenue. There is a strong suspicion of corruption when a secret company is set up in Panama with the claim that it would be used to handle brokerage fees. Where could such funds come if not corruption?” Busuttil said.

The PN leader also claimed that the Cabinet re-shuffle had exposed Muscat’s weakness as he ignored the advice of Labour MPs who had told him to dismiss Mizzi and Schembri.

“On Monday, Muscat spoke to his MPs individually and sought their advice. But he defied their advice, and retained Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri … It is incredulous how Mizzi was actually promoted by being made a minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, which in turn, is responsible for all the other ministries,” he said.

Taking a swipe at Konrad Mizzi for holding the unenviable record of being the shortest-reigning PL deputy leader, Busuttil said the former health and energy minister was equally as unfit as a minister.

“If he was not good enough to be the deputy leader of the Labour Party, how is he good to serve as minister? All this shows that Muscat ridiculed the country, the party, and the government to further his own interests.”

The PN leader also said it was wrong that Muscat had claimed that Mizzi delivered, arguing that people were still waiting at the hospital emergency department or in the corridors, while the LNG power station is yet to be completed after three years.

“The prime minister’s decision was a slap in the face and an insult to the people’s intelligence… The Labour Party lost its social soul, it is being held hostage by Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri,” he said.

“Joseph Muscat can’t stand me because I am saying the truth. The PN will stand for the truth and will be a beacon of hope as it is the only viable alternative government for Malta,” he said.

Earlier, the PN leader hit out at the police for not investigating the Panamagate scandal, claiming that the police were being used to further the government’s agenda.

He said the police found enough time and resources to investigate his driver after allegations of fuel discrepancies between fuel consumed and mileage reported and had even drove his car for 520km to test its fuel consumption.