Update 2 | No Parliament debate against Keith Schembri as Opposition motion fails

Parliament convenes to debate the Opposition's motion that appeals the Speaker's decision not to allow a no confidence motion against OPM chief of staff

Parliament will not get to discuss a motion of no confidence against OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, after the Opposition’s appeal against a Speaker’s ruling failed to win support from the other side of the House.

The motion failed with 30 votes in favour and 35 agains, with independent MP Marlene Farrugia - who had propsoed the origianl motion against Schembri - voting with the Opposition. Parliament will convene again tomorrow to debate her motion, which has - upon the Speaker's request - been amended into one of no confidence against the Prime Minister.

Marlene Farrugia had originally presented a no confidence motion against Schembri, over his ownership of an offshore company as revealed in the Panama Papers. However, upon the advice of the Speaker and the Clerk of the House, she amended it to one of censure in the Prime Minister’s confidence in his chief of staff.

In his ruling, Anglu Farrugia said that Schembri is not answerable to parliament, and that a no confidence motion should therefore be tabled against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, as the person who employed him on a position of trust basis.

However, the Opposition called the Speaker out for adopting “two weights, two measures”, after his predecessor had green-lighted a no confidence motion against Malta’s former representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana.

The Speaker argued that Cachia Caruana, unlike Schembri, had fulfilled functions stemming from the Constitution. Farrugia was not present for the debate, as he was abroad on parliament duty, vacating his seat to deputy Speaker and PN MP Censu Galea.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was only present for the end of the debate; neither he nor Opposition leader Simon Busuttil delivered speeches.

Instead, the most passionate speech was given by Marlene Farrugia who urged her former colleagues to vote with the Opposition so that “common sense can prevail”. 

She noted that her original motion had proposed the formation of an ad hoc parliamentary committee to investigate Schembri – who she described as “an untouchable” – and other witnesses.

“I didn’t think that there would be any problems with my motion, just as there wasn’t a problem in the motion against Cachia Caruana,” she said. “However, the day after I tabled it, while I was drinking Kinnie and eating low-fat Twistees, the Speaker called me to tell me that the motion was inadmissible. I was then faced with a choice – to discard the motion entirely or change it accordingly.”

She questioned why Schembri has such a “grip” over Labour MPs, so much that they are refusing to see a parliamentary committee investigate – and possibly exonerate - him.

She ripped into the Labour government for making “U-turns” on good governance, environment and planning laws following the election.

“Instead of discussing social housing problems, increases in the minimum wage, and fighting precarious jobs, I was forced to table this motion to the only sovereign institution that this country has left,” she said. “However, the government chose to reject my proposal for Schembri to be investigated.”

‘Schembri debate would create ugly precedent’ – justice minister

Justice minister Owen Bonnici warned that Parliament would create an “ugly precedent” had the Speaker allowed Farrugia’s motion to pass in its original form.

“Do we want to reach a stage whereby the government of the day can use its parliamentary majority to chuck out anybody in the public service?” he questioned.

He hit out at the Opposition for “damaging the country’s institutions”, arguing that Busuttil has attacked every institution on the island.

“[Credit rating agency] Moody’s recently praised the rule of law, government effectiveness and control of corruption in Malta,” he said. “I think the public have more faith in Moosy’s than in Simon Busuttil.”
Here, Marlene Farrugia stood up on a point of information to note that Moody’s had given Lehman Brother a AAA rating right before it had collapsed – to claps from Busuttil. 

“You see, he doesn’t even trust Moody’s,” a bemused Bonnici remarked.  

‘Many questions on Panama Papers still unanswered’

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi warned that several critical questions remain unanswered over Schembri’s and Mizzi’s offshore companies.

He questioned why Nexia BT had negotiated with Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca on behalf of Schembri himself, rather than his business Kasco. He also asked why he had wanted to set up waste recycling and online gaming businesses – allegedly with Mizzi as a co-partner – and whether an audit on the OPM chief of staff has commenced as he had promised three months ago.

He recounted Schembri and Mizzi’s “frenzied attempts” to open bank accounts for their offshore companies.

“They tried to open accounts at nine different banks from all four corners of the world, and the Swiss bank [BSI] that eventually green-lighted them only did so on condition that they deposit €800,000 a year into it. Where was this money going to come from?”

He added that Switzerland’s Attorney General today commenced criminal proceedings against that same bank over links to corruption allegations against a Malaysian fund, and that the BBC described the bank as a “private bank that offers its services to high net-worth individuals”.

“Why did Nexia insist on the anonymity of their clients if they weren’t doing something wrong?” he asked. “The only people who hide are those with something to hide. This is a textbook case of suspected money laundering and tax evasion, and yet the authorities have not started investigating.”

He closed his speech by telling the public to remember that Schembri and Mizzi are “evading tax with the Prime Minister’s blessing” the next time they submit their tax returns.

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