Confidence motion: Mizzi’s apology and Labour whip’s forgiveness

Labour whip Godrey Farrugia gives emotional speech in the House where he speaks of forgiveness for Konrad Mizzi

Labour whip Godfrey Farrugia had called for Konrad Mizzi’s resignation
Labour whip Godfrey Farrugia had called for Konrad Mizzi’s resignation

Konrad Mizzi, now addressing the House as a minister ‘without portfolio’ still took it upon himself to speak of his ‘deliverables’ on energy, although the timbre of his speech sounded more muted than usual.

Before mechanically rolling out the milestones of Labour’s energy and health policies, Mizzi offered to apologise to the House for having opened his offshore company in Panama.

“I did what I did in the interest of my family… despite this, I concede that my actions have thrown a shadow on my work and that of my colleagues,” he said.

“There is nothing illicit in what I did, but I have a political responsibility to carry,” Mizzi said, pointing out the demotion he had endured and the fact that he had accepted to step down from PL deputy leader for party affairs.

“I have no problem in asking for an apology,” Mizzi said, although it sounded more of a suggestion than a declaration. “I humbly pledge my loyalty to the Prime Minister… I look towards a future in which our parliamentary group works together towards an electoral manifesto that will improve people’s lives.”

Labour whip Godfrey Farrugia decided to vote against the motion filed by his partner, the former Labour MP Marlene Farrugia, after delivering a heartfelt speech on his relationship with his life partner, the political conflict he endures, and the forgiveness he felt that Konrad Mizzi should be shown.

Mizzi, now the former energy and health minister, offered an apology for having opened an offshore company in Panama, even though the minister never shouldered any political responsibility before Prime Minister Joseph Muscat ‘demoted’ him to a minister without portfolio two months since news broke of the financial structure.

Farrugia on his part, said that he had witnessed Mizzi’s emotional hurt at what ‘Panamagate’ had brought over him, and that Mizzi deserved his forgiveness even though the minister should have resigned for what he had done.

“I understood his concerns, his emotional hurt, I saw the price he paid. Mizzi has endured his own martyrdom, and I believe that any decision must be taken with judiciousness and humility… I forgave the person who made me blind in one eye. I forgive Konrad, who has apologized to this House.”

Farrugia spoke of his partner Marlene Farrugia as the person to who he’d give his life, but admitted to an internal conflict at sharing a house and life with the person who had filed the confidence motion against Mizzi.

The Labour whip was especially emotional, the break in his voice audibly clear, when he talked of the public reaction to his absence from the 1 May rally organised by Labour. “Some attacked me, the media spotlight turned on me because of the division we endure in Malta,” Farrugia said, taking out a small rock and placing it on his desk – a symbol he said was the antithesis of the flowers he brought to parliament on its opening.

“I know my place is here. I lived my life among the people and families I love. I worked hard for a better quality of living... I always strived to be a man for others.”

Farrugia said Mizzi’s actions were incorrect and that he was not above suspicion, but that the Prime Minister had also taken his decision on the matter.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil hit out at what he said was the dereliction of the Prime Minister’s duty to take political responsibility with concrete action.

“The message the prime minister has sent is that it is this House’s duty to take action as the people expect us to. Otherwise we’ll be in a ridiculous situation where a minister is allowed to do what they want, without us MPs even doing the right thing about it,” Busuttil said.

The PN leader said that Mizzi should not even be an MP. “What he did was wrong. Opening a secret company in Panama is wrong, worse for having opened it when he became a minister, an obscenity for planning to pour brokerage fees into the company – clearer elements of corruption have never been more evident.”

Busuttil read out excerpts from the revelations of the Australian Financial Review on the Panama Papers, to drive home the point how Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri actively sought to hide their beneficial ownership in the Panama companies, and find a bank that would accept them as clients, especially after that minimal annual deposits would have to be at least €800,000.

“Doesn’t this raise any form of suspicion for you,” Busuttil told Muscat. “This is what the Maltese people are expecting of you now.”

Busuttil questioned Muscat’s standards when it was made exceptionally clear that Mizzi had given instructions to his auditors to open a bank account, when Mizzi had denied having opened one. “Doesn’t this lie bother you one bit?”

The Opposition leader said the Prime Minister appeared unmoved by the fact that Keith Schembri was planning his own recycling business in India. “How can this man even concentrate on his own job when he is busy seeking business interests elsewhere.”

Busuttil also accused Mizzi of having broken the law by not registering his offshore trust with the Commissioner for Inland Revenue back in 2015, and said there were clear suspicions of money laundering.

“If you’re opening a bank account that needs €800,000 to be opened, from where was he planning on getting that kind of money. The suspicion of money laundering naturally arises.”

Busuttil welcomed speeches from Godfrey Farrugia and Evarist Bartolo, who focused his speech on political morality, saying that this was a vote of conscience. “People will judge you on what you do today,” Busuttil said. “People want a clear sign of seriousness from us, to show with our vote that we truly believe in what we say.”

Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressed the House in reply to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, instantly engaging him in a battle of rhetoric after Simon Busuttil told the House that “no MP here except for Mizzi” had an offshore company in Panama.

“You now know that I have no offshore company,” Muscat said to his side’s acclaim, after the Opposition questioned whether a third offshore company set up by Nexia BT, Mizzi’s auditors, had been intended for the prime minister.

Muscat was unequivocal about what he termed Busuttil’s arrogance, stating that he should repeals his party’s loans scheme – which Muscat said was a conduit for money laundering – if he truly had subscribed, as he said, to Evarist Bartolo’s speech on political morality.

“We endure social demonization… while Nationalist MPs approach us asking us for a more civil parliamentary debate. They talk about the state of public broadcasting when they use unofficial channels to undermine people privately. Busuttil has even revealed today how he plans to undermine Leo Brincat’s bid for the Court of Auditors,” Muscat said, referring to the PN leader’s suggestion that Brincat would have to answer for the way he votes in today’s confidence vote during his hearing for the ECA.

“I can state today that I was consulted by the PN government way back in Opposition to be sounded out as to whether I would repeal Tonio Borg’s nomination as Commissioner if I found myself in power after his appointment. I said I would guarantee his nomination.”

Mario de Marco

PN deputy leader for parliamentary affairs Mario de Marco’s speech focused on the effects of the Panama Papers revelations on the Maltese financial services industry, saying Mizzi’s apology would do little to safeguard the industry from any repercussions from Panamagate.

“Mizzi may be the government’s most competent minister, but this is not the issue at stake in this debate. Every single contract Mizzi has signed in the government’s name remains unpublished… Mizzi is hiding behind this government’s opacity.”

De Marco hit out at Muscat’s “farcical Cabinet reshuffle” as an insult to the Maltese people’s intelligence. “There’s national outrage out there, especially considering the appeal of finance minister Edward Scicluna to the prime minister to consider the national interest. Did the prime minister take that decision to ensure our country is no longer tarnished by the Panama scandal? He took neither the hard, nor the necessary decision to defend our country’s reputation.”

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